Saturday, February 13, 2016


Twenty years ago I was taking my first poetry workshop, my only one as an undergrad, and writing the sort of horrible rhyming poems that attempted to match  "river" and "quiver", I was 21 years old and navigating my third year, mostly filled with literature and theater courses. I was still woefully unknowledgeable about poetry or po-biz, or anything beyond the insulated existence that a small liberal arts college allows one.  It was also a pre-internet world, where my sole knowledge of a poetry career was gleaned from reading Plath's journals and some old copies of Writer's Digest.  Every week, I return to my parent's house, where my mother had saved me dinner in the microwave (usually spaghetti on Mondays) and start reading through the workshop poems, which I scoffed at in their horribleness (actually I think we were all equally horrible.)  The poems I wrote then were very Dickinson-esque, very tight and spare.  A couple of quatrains--a perfect block of text.  I had only recently took up poetry again, having abandoned it temorarily in favor, first, in fiction, then focusing on theatre pursuits.   Christmas break that year had found me writing again after a couple of years and bristling with excitement over how good they seemed to be.

I soared through that semester, writing so many bad poems it made my head spin.  By summer, I had set about sending work out in earnest.   By summer, I had moved away from the slant rhyme I'd been afflicted with all spring and spent long hours over break poised at the dining room table  writing by hand and then typing up manuscripts on the sad little typewriter I'd bought with my highschool graduation money.    I was getting better, the lines loosing, longer, better.  It was still a couple years until I wrote anything solid, but I was hooked by then.  I grew to hate the workshop process, which really didn't help my poems, but served only to make me squirm while people who also new nothing about writing gave me suggestions on poems that I thought were brilliant, but were pretty much unsalvageable.

I always consider my grad school time as the time I became serious about writing.  The point at which I began "getting it" whatever "it" is.  The point at which I decided to devote my life to making things with words, but the path had started even a couple years before at that dining room table, or maybe even before that, when at 19, I carried  a stationery box filled with poems around with me. Or at 15 when I wrote my first horrible attempts for my freshman English class. But twenty years ago was what I found myself thinking of this morning when I woke up.  I was lucky to have those indulgences, all that time to think and write that college allows.

I was also thinking about my aesthetic then, so inseparable from the things I was devouring, 90's music--girls with guitars and pianos.  I was re-reading Plath religiously during those years, of course, the diaries and the letters and the poems, which I appreciated less at that ago, but still informed the writing I would eventually do.  It would still be a couple years before I started reading much else poetry wise (Gluck, Sexton, Olds).  A couple more years before my first legit acceptance from a journal.  But it's a little surreal to think of myself in 1996 with my piles of poems and plates of spaghetti and how I will be publishing my 6th book this spring.  Some things have changed.  I write on a keyboard more than I write by hand anymore.  I avoid workshops.  I don't need as much revision. Some obsessions are still the same and I I've picked up a few new ones.

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