Somehow, as I was sitting here, wearily pushing poems around my desk and thinking about the structure of girl show, I started thinking about that winter eight years ago, when this whole poetry thing started to take shape, to be a possibility, a way of living my life (if not a way to pay for it.) I used to sit at my wobbly, busted table in my tiny little studio in Lincoln Park, drinking pot after pot of tea and writing like crazy, sometimes two to three poems a day. Granted I did nothing else then but go to class and live off student loans-no job, no real responsibilities outside school, but I wrote dozens upon dozens of poems that winter--all pretty awful of course. The deluge had started in the fall and carried on for another six months. It was then, in the midst of PHD applications in Literature, faced with the possibility of a life burdened by scholarship and publish or perish, I decided, since the writing was going, in my mind, fabulously, to just finish my MA, get a reasonably bookish job, and continue to write poems. (Easier said then done, I realized that next summer as I searched like hell for someone to hire me with my ridiculously small amount of skill and hardly any experience) That was the winter I got my first acceptance from a journal and began submitting more regularly, even vigorously. The winter when I put together my first manuscript and entered it into a contest (I'm sure I gave my fellow Yale Younger Poets competitors a run for their money that year). When I finally felt like I was doing what I should be doing.
Until then, I'd always been obsessing over what I really wanted to do with my life. I had finally narrowed it down into an academic career of some sort, but there was still some waffling--what area, what doctoral program, what genre. I even toyed with applying to Northwestern's Performance Studies program, or possibly getting back into theatre, maybe dramaturgy. (this still seems like a really cool job). It was freeing somehow that winter to give up all that plotting, that planning, all my lists of conferences I should submit papers to (papers I hated, and still hate writing), places I wanted to teach, religiously reading the Chronicle. To just focus on the poems--what I wanted to be writing- instead of all those boring literary essays I felt I SHOULD be writing even though I had no inclination to. To just be the artist and not the scholar I've never been very good at being. But it was also scary and exhilarating, to let go of that net, to be consumed enough by what I was doing for the first time, that nothing else seemed a possibility.
I sometimes seem to have been doing this so long --writing poems (actually tack on another five years of undergrad badness), putting together manuscripts, submitting and researching, things which occasionally feel like, well, work (all against the backdrop of barely squeaking by financially)I forget sometimes that initial spark and exhilaration and how lucky I am to have had things work out so well. Now, eight years later, and a reasonably satisfactory amount of success--lots of poems out there in the world, some books, a small but faithful readership, some nice little publishing ventures--plus, a paying job that allows me the freedom and room to do all this-- I'd tell that girl at the table with her tea and her pen furiously scribbling she made the right decision, the only decision that would have worked.