Sunday, September 23, 2007

we all have our slashes

Here's the cover to a tiny book that I made in forty copies recently. It's one poem in an eight-page book. Check it out! If you want a copy, you can either email me, and I'd be happy to get one to you, or you can see me in New Orleans for a reading on October fourth and get one there!

For those who are curious, here's the text (although, this gives you no impression of how it looks in the book):

we all have our slashes

a guilt trip permission slip
—leaving tomorrow
on the first train to any low
cal diet
—she wants to go, but isn’t sure she’ll fit

( am i too fat or too short?
( am i disobedient when i fail a drug test
with only oral contraceptives in my system?

i don’t remember eating that
i don’t remember eating yesterday
i remember it was here but
i don’t remember more than that

that’s what happens when the mind turns to gloopy stuff
from a lack of use
( can that happen all at once?
my grand mother used to say if you forgot what you were going to say, it was a lie
i remember lying all the time
i remember lying to you
i remember not being very good at it
i’ll never make a good poker player
so, i’ll stick to trivia
then my mind doesn’t turn to gloopy stuff

i remember dark scans & not being interested in the content
i’m just not content to read about certain things
especially when they build the irony of an erroneous situation
( she’s usually a good-humored type, but not today
nor yesterday, come to think of it

sometimes i feel like everyone is talking about me
& i can’t hear it but i walk into the room
& it’s there—a distinct impression
& i know i’m guilty of something terrible but
i don’t remember what
i know it’s not too much lithium or gold or carbon or what-have-you
& no one believes me when i tell them
they just look at me with those eyes
you know those eyes—the ones that belie the mouth that says
i believe you
then, they turn around & talk about me
i can’t hear it but i know what they’re saying

sometimes i don’t know what paranoia is
because you told me once
i’m afraid you were just trying to hurt me
what did you mean when you said
she got what she asked for
i would never ask you to hit me
but i think you would do it anyway
& tell me it was what i wanted
i don’t remember what i want but
i think it’s not that i don’t like pain
unless it’s emotional & i can sit & sift through it for hours
just like failing a drug test

i want to be well but i want you to do it
i don’t want to take the responsibility
you’ll do that for me, right
you’ll make me well but not hold me accountable
i was hoping i could get through this on your back
like a monkey without money or a place to sleep
i have lots of company, though
they wouldn’t like having you around
because you’d talk about them just like you talk about me
they know what i’m guilty of but won’t tell me
they’re afraid you’ll say it loud enough so i can hear


Monday, September 10, 2007

Poetically Speaking: Having, Losing, Rediscovering a Voice

I've been thinking a lot lately about my poetry. I've been writing for many years--since elementary school, and for years, I was able to talk about my writing, and shared it with others, with or without confidence. I knew what I wrote and why I wrote it. I had a sense of identity with regards to my poetry. And, I loved to engage with others in conversation about poetry, in general, and, of course, about my own writing.

For several years, I lost that voice. I fell into a void where writing was still fun and useful for me, but I no longer felt like I knew what it was I was writing. I no longer could speak about it, and I struggled to find my voice. The audience I was writing for was a lot smaller--five or six. I say that, but then I think about what Gertrude Stein said about her own writing-- "I write for myself and others." For several years, I wasn't writing for myself. I was writing for others, and a very specific group of others, and I struggled knowing anymore who I was (am) poetically. Now that I'm writing without restrictions imposed by this small group of others, I'm finding that I'm coming into my own again poetically, and I'm excited about my process. The process started when big changes began about a year ago, but the changes have been much more drastic in the past month or so, as I realize that the biggest audience for my work is myself. I'm taking more personal responsibility for my work, and I'm excited about where this process is going to lead me.

I came to Atlanta in search of a group of people who shared my enthusiasm for poetry and wanted to meet regularly to discuss it, so I was excited to find such a group, and I grew and learned while participating in that group. Now that I've moved on and am searching for new poetic paths, I realize that in some ways, the group I formerly belonged to was inhibiting for me, because I changed my entire perspective on poetry without even realizing I was completely abandoning my own desires and needs with regards to my writing. It was a time of exploration, of playing with language in ways that I had always been afraid to in the past. I had permission to let down all boundaries and see what came out. As I reflect back on the experience, I realize that I always had boundaries up, although they started falling a bit over the past year, and are crumbling rapidly now. The boundaries were different during that time but still ever-present. I became more concerned about "what other people think" of my work, so I was false about who I am as a poet. I remember feeling like a fraud at times.

I'm extremely thankful that I've been introduced to experimental/avant garde/language/etc. poetry, because it's something I'd never had much exposure to before moving to Atlanta. I had taught Frank O'Hara and Wallace Stevens and e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams to my students, but I never looked at how these poets broke with convention in ways that I always wanted to but could never quite do with Robert Frost as my main influence (and, I still have a soft place for his poetry). As an English teacher and lover of languages, I wanted more for my poetry, so I'm thankful to have been exposed to Gertrude Stein, whose "lifting belly" is still one of my all-time favorites and some really great contemporary writers, who I will talk about in later posts, I'm sure. I'm thankful to have been introduced to the Four Horsemen, who use sound in their poetry, sound that reminds me of childhood and the ways that my brother and I used to communicate with each other. Before experiencing that, I never imagined that I could make that a part of my poetry! I'm excited to have found that!

Right now, I'm in a melding process. I'm recapturing the poet I had started being in elementary school and whose journey was truncated for the tutelage in a more 'postmodern' idea of what poetry can be. A part of me feels I spent too long in that space, but I was afraid to leave, because I didn't think I could find a place to fit in. Overall, though, it's difficult to find a place to fit in when I'm not being true to myself--personally or poetically. I didn't engage in those weekly meetings in ways that I would have liked, because I was so overwhelmed by how different that world was from my own experience with writing. I was excited, intimidated, and lost in the whole experience. Now, I'm trying to take what I learned there and figure out how it fits with what I was already doing before moving to Atlanta, because I know it does. I believe that I had a natural inclination toward a writing that incorporates sound and languages other than English, particularly all that rich sound and language that my brother and I found in childhood. Honestly, I was afraid to bring that all out, even with the group I was with, who would have been accepting of that influence. But, maybe I wanted it to be my own, and if I'd let it out sooner (than now), it would have felt less authentic, less mine, more like something someone else could take or share credit for. At the heart of it, too, I know I wanted to bring it out under the "perfect" set of circumstances--not prematurely. It seems to me that now that I'm getting "a little of my own back" (to sort of quote Eliza Doolittle) that it's time to find a place for all that.

The last poetry performance I participated in was in July, and I received some feedback about the work I did and how surprising some of the sound stuff was. I found myself resentful of the person giving the feedback, because, although this person knew me for four years, he didn't know I was capable of what I did in July--although I've been capable of it all along. I look back on that night now and realize that he couldn't have known, because before this past year, I had never exposed that side of me to this group of people. And, just as I started finding that voice in me and started working on melding what I learned for four-plus years with what I've had inside me all along, I decided to move on, so I'm still not exposing this part of myself to this group of people.

All this somehow leads me to _resipiscent_, the chap manuscript I just completed. The poems for this collection began in January and February of this year and carried on, with a few months of dryness as I worked on other projects, till last week. I'm excited, as I look at the poems in this work, to see how much growth I experienced, personally and poetically, in just a few months' time. Others may not recognize the changes in the poems the way that I see them, but to me, it's wildly apparent, and that's a big part of my enthusiasm for having this chap finished. When I read through the manuscript as I organized it for printing, I found that the process I've been going through with rediscovering my poetic voice is evident on those pages, and since the poems weren't written in the order that they appear in the chapbook, the progress and process isn't apparent as one poem is read and then another. Overall, the collection is just like _panmixia_ and still honors the zebra (in a sort of indirect nod to The Magnetic Fields), but there are subtleties that make _resipiscent_ a little more exciting for me.

The past several years have been big ones for change for me--again personally and poetically. In some ways, I feel that my poetry is the best way for me to measure and examine how I made my way through that change. Thank goodness I'm not afraid that someone will move my cheese, and I'm willing to chase it!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Happy September!

I'm hoping that Labor Day weekend brought some rest for laborers. I was happy to not have to work yesterday. It was a true day off for me! The first in quite a while! So, I went to a cook-out, another first in quite a while.

This is an update on poetry, since there's been little about that recently. I have just finished putting together the file for my next chapbook, _resipiscent_, the sequel to _panmixia_, which is referred to in an earlier post. Now the chapbook hasn't been printed yet, nor has the cover been created, but that will happen in the next few days, so that printing can happen soon, too. I have already decided on the paper I'll be using for both the cover and the innards My goal is to have the project finished in advance of October 4, when I am reading in New Orleans. I'm planning to have some other hopefully hard-covered goodies ready for that reading as well.

Once the cover for the chap is completed, I'll post a poem from the book. Keep posted, as that should be happening in the next few days.

Several months ago, I began a project called "pickled fir grins" (which is mentioned in an earlier post, as there is a sound file on the Atlanta Poets Group blog of "tic edge exit," a poem from that project). Now that _resipiscent_ is complete, I will be returning to "pickled fir grins" and some other poetic projects.

Thanks for keeping up!