I find myself still with poetry at the center of my life, but it's different, more focused on building something than just getting it out there. I hoard poems these days in a strange way and only occasionally send them out, and then usually only when someone asks me to. Part of it is simply time, the business of being a poet falling very low on the ladder. And very often, my focus is not even my own work at all, but moreso the work I do with the press. I get just as much joy bringing these books into the world as I do spawning my own poems (also there is much less writerly anxiety).
Perhaps every poet feels this way after a couple of books, after they've gotten some footing and an audience and the struggle is not so paramount. While I can't help but mourn a little for the ambition bird dead in it's box, it's also incredibly freeing somehow, almost like I'm getting away with something, scribbling poems and hiding them and not running about waving them saying "look at me!" "look at me!" like I used to.
It might be partially a post MFA thing, that whole too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome, the very publicness of it, too many people in your poems and creative business to the point where you couldn't breath sometimes. To have someone making judgements on your "body of work" based on what they've seen of it when really they've seen nothing. Some of what I heard and witnessed there still turns my stomache. After three years, you'd think I would be over it, and yet, the feeling is still there.
It might also just be a diffusion of my creative efforts. I am not nearly so type A about my explorations into visual art or the crafty stuff. It's all much more open and low pressure, and also a bit more subject to simple supply and demand (ie..I make things, people either want them or they don't). There's no angst over whether or not it's good enough, important enough to warrant an audience**. Even if it sometimes regulates po-biz concerns to the back burner, it's what keeps me sane (and outfitted with paper & art supplies, studio space, little luxuries and all manner of other frivolous things beyond my paltry day job salary.)
And still it's sorta nice to write something and not be obsessed with where to send it, the poem as currency, the entire book as currency for what? career? respect? acclaim? The stakes of poetry are so laughably low and so very important at the same time it makes my head spin. But then again, any poet needs an audience. Really an audience is all you've got in the end, people who discover and like your work enough to take an interest in it. And to find those people, certain concessions need to be made. The poems have to make it into the world hell or high water. And yet so many of us still feel trapped in a system we sort of despise, the do's and don'ts of a poetry "career", the rules, the heirarchies...the stuff we feel we are supposed to want, but maybe don't really.
So I plan this year to be better at it, at least in terms of audience if not the typical po-biz stuff, better at finding ways to get what I want and discarding all the rest that's been fed to me. It feels scary and exhilerating at the same time...we'll see what comes of it...
**And granted alot my starry-eyedness when it comes to visual art is just being oblivious to the inner workings of the art world, which I suppose are as troubling as those of poetry, I guess I just don't see them from my vantage as an outsider, someone not really part of the gallery circuit, totally unschooled, not really hanging out with many people in that world. Part of me kinda wants to keep it that way. I sort of get nostalgic for the years I was writing poetry as an "outsider" who had no clue about the inner workings of the poetry machine (or that there was a machine). Actually, I think there is less of a machine than there was 10, or even 5 years ago, thank god, but it's still there, some people holding on furiously with their fingers despite it falling apart.