The Writing Blues

Aidan at work on his magnum opus.

My children are ever so much more productively writing than I am. Vincent’s discovering the discoveries and challenges of reading and writing, and Aidan is doggedly working on his own mysterious pages.

I, on the other hand, have written exactly two poems since my mother died. That Salamander will be publishing one of them in their next issue is some consolation, but I’m feeling the pull and tug of the writing bug.

After Aidan was born, I buckled down and wrote a poem a week, and kept at it consistently, for a long time. Not all were worth keeping or working on, but the regularity of effort kept my mind chugging.

But now, sometimes, a lot of times, I just feel stymied. What to say that’s not about my mother and how intensely I miss her? (Which is responsible for the silences here as well.)

I’ve reached that stage where I’m weary of talking about my grief. I miss her. It hurts. Nothing helps, nothing will help, because she’s not coming back. Emotionally I accept that, but I’m just bored with myself.

I’m not unaware of my life’s many blessings, not least of which is a plenitude of love, my dear family, this unexpected gift of a new child in the spring.

I’m also grateful that I live a life saturated in literature: Tupelo Press, the Collected Poets Series, the support and love of poet friends — it’s a financially precarious life, but I love it and am thankful for it.

Which is to say, I love my life. To paraphrase the film, “Super 8,” (which I also loved), bad things happen, but I can go on. I can live, and can live happily.

I guess I’m just trying to find a way to write about this abiding sadness that doesn’t feel maudlin or self-indulgent or tedious. It’s one thing to bore myself; it’s unforgivable to bore others.

The Beaufort Scale

I’ve always been fascinated by the Beaufort Scale. It could be because the concept of measurement itself is intrinsically interesting, but how the Beaufort Scale grapples with wind is a sort of poetry. Its language is simple and elegant, metaphorical. And it’s served as a point of inspiration for:

As I was reading Weather Eye Open last night, a way of using the Beaufort Scale for a poem of my own occurred to me, though it’s not the Beaufort Scale itself I’d be using, but its structure, as a sort of model for organizing my thoughts about grief, from the still point at the eye of the hurricane. So to speak. “Projects” don’t really work for me as such, but I’m hoping that this might help give me some extra tools for handling such fraught material.

Also in the realm of good news, two poems were accepted by a journal I’d given up on hearing from, it’d been so long. Nice to break up those rejections here and there, yes?

Despite it all…

…I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I was born to a great mother, that I loved her and told her so all the time. That I was able to be there for her and that she let me care for her was a real blessing. A critical illness has a way of burning away all the inessentials. The pain I’m in now is because I love her so much — my grief is the best tribute I can offer.

I’m lucky that I have so many sweet and thoughtful friends who thought of me and how difficult Sunday would be for me, and reached out with comfort. I know there will be many such hard days ahead, but I confess I didn’t handle this one very well.

And I’m lucky I have these boys, and their patient father, all of whom look stricken every time I go out “for poetry,” but let me go nonetheless. The poetry is returning — a new poem last week, another brewing — but nothing could happen if they didn’t give me a little space to maneuver.

And I like to think they’re discovering the exhilaration of creating for themselves…

Squared

Holy smokes, it’s November. This is when I really began to panic. Not because of the holidays or shopping — we simply don’t participate that way — but because of what it all represents: the end of another year, the lightning passage of time. If you haven’t noticed, it’s speeding up. Someone needs to look into that — time’s spindles are wound too tight — what’s faster, time or the speed of light?

In an effort to take my mind off my rapidly aging self, I attacked the accumulating piles in my wee office. I found an old file folder beneath one stack, and within its pages of dreck, treasure: an older poem I haven’t been able to find (My computer’s crashed 3 times since summer, 2 times in spring, and although I’ve been backing up important items regularly, one of those times I lost the file containing most of my older, unfinished poems. Not a big loss for the most part.) which I’ve been thinking about.

It was one of those instances where you put the poem away, flawed but recalcitrant, until it bobs back up to the surface of your consciousness, and you can suddenly see its possibilities like little doors with glowing knobs. I love that.

Because what I ended up working on was a prose poem — a form that feels mystifying and ineffable to me — I’m especially interested in this new book from Firewheel Editions edited by Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham, An Introduction to the Prose Poem, and this review of it in the new issue of Cerise Press.

What appeals to the autodidact in me about this collection is that, from what I’ve gleaned in the review and description on Firewheel’s website, it attempts to offer some sort of understanding about what a prose poem is. Not to be definitive or monolithic about it, but to help the helpless (me!) gain more of a handle on what makes a prose poem a poem. Can you say? It’s harder than you think.

Thanks, everyone, for your kind thoughts and good wishes. Also mysterious and ineffable, but it helps, and I’m so grateful.

“A body falls like a story: / beginning, middle, end.” — Amy Newman

Except in my case — my falling came to an abrupt halt. The back staircase was slick with rain, and I slipped on my first step, holding Aidan — who was entirely unhurt —

(I sprained an ankle once falling down our front staircase holding Vincent, and he too was unhurt — I’m very good at holding my boys, but not, apparently, at walking down stairs.)

— and as my feet flew before me, my middle, i.e., coccyx, skidded hard down several steps before coming to a solid smack of a landing. It was a ridiculous thing to have done, as Vincent pointed out (“Mommy! You’re supposed to hold on to the railing!”). And painful. Yes, oh my, painful, yes. I broke my bottom.

Naturally, because I have impeccable timing, I’m in a nebulous in-between as I continue to wait for MassHealth to consider my application for health insurance. Purgatorio. So it’s days of Tylenol and side-sitting ahead. Oy.

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I’ve been reading Poetry in Person, a fantastic collection of interviews of poets who visited Pearl London and her poetry class. Every single interview has had something wonderful to offer.

Transfixed as I am by my current injury, I’m struck by this comment by Molly Peacock: “I think of forms as skeletons, not cages.”

Not a cage to struggle against. Something to build on, something to hold the pieces together. Not merely a structure, but a core.

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The boys are trying very hard to be quiet, so something naughty must be afoot.

Sub·mit (səb mit′) — origin: ME submitten < L submittere < sub-, under, down + mittere, to send

It’s September, the first days of autumn — officially here in two days — beginning of migration season — birds & leaves — colder temps and colds. Naturally, my children are celebrating by both of them coming down with whoppers of colds. I’m not the nervous type, but Aidan’s breathing so concerned me last night that we ended up in the ER. Diagnosis, bronchitis, no need for x-rays — at least not yet — we don’t seem to be dealing with pneumonia — at least not yet. Keep an eye on him, etc.

They’re both pretty miserable & subdued, one of the side benefits of which is periodic interludes of peace & quiet, sadly uncharacteristic of our usual household. Which is to say that I’m going to use this fleeting time to catch up on some reading & (gasp!) maybe even do some writing.

But before I go: I always have poems out there, but September is also the month when open submissions begin for many journals, and hence the month that many writers concentrate on sending their submissions, the Fall Submission Blitz (FSB), if you will. In honor of  FSB, below are two witty & simpatico articles on rejection. Let loose the Kraken!

  • Corey Ginsberg on “The Two Faces of Rejection”:  Rejection from the editor’s side and, of course, the writer’s — “You rock fetal on the floor next to the SASEs, and wish you had other life skills. What about juggling?”
  • Claire Guyton on “Fondling Failure”: Because I’ve saved every one of my rejections since the very first submission I made at the green green age of 19, and I’m so glad I did. They’re historical documents, that history being mine. Rejections aren’t, unfortunately, irreplacable — as long as you submit there are bound to be more — but if I’m doing something right, hopefully they’ll be at least unique, with small pen indentations of encouraging words. And that’s definitely worth saving.

On Revision

I don’t mean the sort of revising that is part of the usual process of writing a poem. I’m thinking more about the revising of poems that have already appeared in print. If you’ve ever seen Galway Kinnell read, you might have noticed the margins of the book he’s reading from filled with pencil scrawls. For Kinnell, there’s no such thing as a finished poem. If he has the impulse to revise an old poem while preparing for a reading (or even during the reading itself!), he goes ahead and does so, right there on the printed page.

I love Kinnell’s work, and what’s more, I would never tell any writer his process is wrong. But I wonder, if you were to track the various versions of his revisions through Kinnell’s books, what would you find?

This excerpt from a Q&A with Eavan Boland on the Smartish Pace website captures exactly my misgivings:

I think there’s always a charged relation between a writer and their early work. At least there is in my case. It’s hard not to see the flaws, the awkwardness and feel somewhat the same as when you see an early photograph of yourself. You think–why did I wear that? How did I let myself look at the camera like that? But it’s a misplaced self-consciousness: You aren’t–and you never will be again–the person who wrote those poems. The most vivid evidence you get of that is when you’re putting together a Selected Poems, as I did some years ago. You have to make a conscious effort to leave the poems alone that should be left alone. There’s a temptation to take poems that you wrote in your twenties and give them the smoothness or understanding you have in your forties. And it can become a kind of forgery.

— Eavan Boland, in her Smartish Pace Q&A

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If you’re a blogger interested in hosting a Tupelo poet via Q&A of your own, or a book review, or something of your own devising, and just haven’t gotten around to saying so, it’s not too late. Email me at mgauthier [at] tupelopress [dot] org and throw your name in the ring. Write now, before it falls off your to-do list.

And if you’ve written already, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you — only hoping to add a few more participants to the list. I really love this batch of new books, I want to get them in the hands of as many readers as I can. Besides these titles just released there are these coming out soon — such terrific poetry and poets!

from Poor-Mouth Jubilee, by Michael Chitwood:

Gentle Reminders of What Makes the Poetry Blogosphere Such a Great Place to Be:

  • I was lucky enough to take Jeannine Hall Gailey‘s online  manuscript workshop this summer, and I can’t begin to tell you what a rich experience it was. There are plenty of resources, both online & in print, that give you advice on how to sequence a manuscript, but there’s nothing like having a close & intelligent & impartial & generous reader write long paragraphs of comments & constructive criticism about your poetry book-to-be. And there was the great boon of the other students’ readings as well. And the experience of reading others’ MSs with a critical eye, which helped me with my own, too. Jeannine’s offering this workshop again this fall. If you’re working on a manuscript, get thee to Jeannine! Because your MS deserves it.
  • If I’d ever had a writing professor in my life, I’d wish she was at least a little like Emma Bolden: passionate, creative, brilliantly fierce, and very very funny. If you haven’t yet heard the news, now Emma has created The Yawp — which seeks to get poetry out of the classroom and into the world, where it can really do some damage. Participation is not only encouraged, but the point itself. Poet up & spread the word.
  • Speaking of spreading the word, I’ve been so happy folks want to participate in a virtual Tupelo Poets on Parade ( I keep calling it this, because it makes me smile, but it may not be the official tagline. Stay tuned.). I’m still compiling volunteers, so if you want to host a review or interview on your blog, please, speak up! (mgauthier [at] tupelopress [dot] org)

Draft of the Week, #16

Considering all my whining about time and the lack of it, you might be wondering how goes the writing? In fits and starts. I’ve managed to write two drafts so far this month, which is a nice return to form, and only one of which caused agony and gnashing of teeth.

Because it was a frustrating week of drafting that poem, a few lines a day. Not for lack of having the words, but the opportunity to work on them. The heat, humidity, general malaise…for whatever reason, my boys would not leave me alone for more than a second at a time. I’d have hid out in the bathroom if that would’ve guaranteed me some time alone. But don’t be silly — for mums of small children, solitary bathroom use is a fantasy.

By the end of that week, I was fairly frothing with pent-up angst. Then the heat snap broke and I stayed up even later than usual (because I habitually sacrifice sleep to reading/writing time — I’m delirious with fatigue even as I type) to hash out this poem. The lines were now written, but I wasn’t happy with their form on the page. Writing it piecemeal, it had come out in tercets, but tercets tend to be my go-to form, so looking at the lines and poem length, I thought I’d break it up even further and try couplets. But that didn’t work — the poem felt too aerated and strung out. Then I noticed that the poem’s turn occurred at the exact center of poem. Exact. Which was interesting for a poem about the centers of things. Which led me to split the poem into two stichic stanzas of equal length. I was so pleased with the result that I’ve already submitted it — a quicker sending-out-into-the-world for this poem, but I’d spent so much time thinking about it, more time even than I spent physically writing it, it felt done — so no draft for you to read this time, I’m afraid.

I have to admit that editors and their stricter submission guidelines have me rethinking my posting of drafts, anyway. I’m considering taking a page from Sandy’s book and, instead of temporarily posting a draft, sharing process notes like this with just a few choice lines. The advantages are that I won’t put a poem out of the running for a journal I harbor aspirations to appear in (how’s that for torturous syntax!), and I won’t have to (remember to) delete the excerpted lines; they can stay forever!