Last post, I wrote about being flooded with old memories as a result of nonfiction pieces I am writing. Fortunately, I know one remedy to feeling overwhelmed by a project: Write on something different for a bit. It won’t fix everything, but it helps.
So I took advantage of a little writers’ gathering to focus solely on writing poetry; specifically, the kind of writing that strives to be uninhibited and often leads to brand new drafts of something. Very raw drafts, but a thing exists that did not exist before.
A short project to rest from a long-term project. A project done for simple joy of creativity instead of the more purpose-driven work. And two brand new poems, hurray!
A change, a breath, an infusion of fresh energy. Checking in with the poetry part of myself that has felt a bit neglected for the past month or so.
I don’t know what the difference between a writer and a poet is. Maybe there really is none. But my psyche relates differently to what I think of as my poetry from the way it does to my prose. Both are vital; neither appreciate neglect.
There’s more work for me to do. I still feel shaky and vulnerable and craving. But I did one positive thing, used one positive coping mechanism. Go me.
Readers who don’t live in California may still already know this, but just in case–we’re on fire. Worse than ever before. Hundreds are dead and more hundreds missing. Ash and smoke have rendered the air bad enough to close schools and other things; masks are being worn for hundreds of square miles.
What do poets do at a time like this? We write, of course. We write about what’s going on–and sometimes, for our own survival, we go on writing about other things too.
Or we write about what’s going on, but indirectly. We write things that come from ourselves after we strain current events through the cloth of our psyche. Odd inspirations that come to us, or characters inspired by people we met or heard about.
I had an experience like this a couple of nights ago when I read a wildfire-related poem at an open mic. It was a strange one–for some reason, what came from my psyche was a poem about visiting a friend in the psych ward while the fires were burning, and about the way his mental illness was severe enough to cut him off from being able to feel or care about them.
But strange can be good sometimes–as I know I’ve said before, writing about the same basic things from a million perspectives is what poets do, because you never know which angle will touch somebody.
I’m finally feeling creative again after a days-long crash following my exciting reading. Creative–but wildly unfocused.
My brain is trying to think of the following things simultaneously:
- The status of my fellowship application to a writers’ community
- What to enter in a Bay Area poetry contest coming up
- Plans for compiling my first full-length poetry manuscript, and whether I could get it together in time to submit to a certain press by their annual deadline
- Which memoir-style piece to tackle next for my nonfiction project
- Two different ideas brought up recently for collaborative pieces with poets I know
- Bits and pieces from pretty much all of my old poems, thanks to recent work of pasting them into a new format
- Submission to a women’s magazine whose reading period just began
- A community chapbook I have been thinking of getting together and whether I should go ahead and send out calls for submissions.
And…Hamilton lyrics, which are awesome poetry but an immense distraction when they keep popping up during any of the above.
For the first time, I have exchanged poems I wrote for money. What a trip.
When I was the featured poet at a reading on Friday night, I brought copies of my first chapbook with me. Chapbooks are simple, low-budget productions, usually containing between 10 and 15 poems. I didn’t think I would get it done in time, because my date for the reading had been moved up, but with the help of my spouse I did.
I was looking forward to the feature, and determined to focus on enjoying myself at the mic and not worry about whether anyone would want a copy. Realistically, I expected to sell 5 or less to the modestly sized audience. I sold ten, so I’m very happy.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog, or my old one, knows that me writing and then beginning to join the writing community has been quite a process of change. You might have read an entry two years ago describing my first attendance at a poetry open mic. or my first submissions.
So if you write, and long to develop your writing more, I hope you will take encouragement from the things I share. I’m a messed up person, but I took one step at a time and I did these things. I think you can too.
This morning, I had thirty-five days to get ready for the feature I’m doing. Now I have eight.
Long story, but due to some unavoidable circumstances I’ve just been asked to feature on October 12 instead of November 9 as originally scheduled. So now I have eight days. The chapbook I was going to make for the reading doesn’t exist, unless I want to do a quick and dirty job within a week. While working on a couple of special poems I really wanted to have ready.
The little kid in me is throwing a tiny tantrum because she wanted everything to be perfect. It’s only the second actual feature I’ve ever done, so the novelty has not worn off. I really want to be amazing, and I need to understand that’s not how all of this works.
It’s not. If I bring my desire for everything to be perfect and impressive, I’ll be distracted from being authentic.
I feel as if I somehow gave birth to two beautiful aliens.
The gallery opening was amazing. The work of sixteen artists on display, along with the ten poems that served as inspiration for them. There were two paintings that used my poem as their source.
How do I describe the way seeing them felt? To say I was touched is ridiculously inadequate. Especially since the subject of my poem was so personal (it’s about my daughter) it was overwhelming to see works that artists made with so much time and care.
I got to meet both artists and talk to one of them in more depth about her process. It was clear that the artists put their hearts into the pieces; that my poem resonated with them strongly enough to bring forth this kind of dedication on their part.
Staring at one of the paintings, I felt my mind journey into the depths of the abstract scene portrayed. I felt the world in it take on a life of its own. I had a visceral experience of the fact that a poem can be more than words, more than a set of ideas. That a poem, or any other creative work, can be a spark that ignites an unknown universe.
I can’t describe how hard it was to start sharing my poetry with others a couple of years ago. It has become easier and far more enjoyable with experience, but there are still times when stepping up to that mic or podium feels like opening the book of myself and inviting hordes of savage critics to have a go.
Now I get to take another step out of my comfort zone, thanks to a gallery show that accepted one of my poems. One or more artists did a piece about it, and my poem will be on the wall of the gallery with the pieces for nearly a month. On display. With my name on it. When I go to a gallery reception tomorrow, I’ll be introducing myself to people as my name and work are displayed on the wall.
This is such an honor (and it’s interesting to note how much I have been minimizing it when I talk about it to others, emphasizing that it’s a small show, etc.) While I work on overcoming my inertia and submitting more writing to publications, I get to have the experience of standing by my work in public.
It’s excruciating to have that one piece be the representation of me as a poet. It’s like sweating over which poem to read at an open mic, times a hundred.
It’s a wonderful problem to have.