Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Maybe it's witches, maybe rain.
Over the weekend, I was thumbing through a copy of the fever almanac, my first book, whose tenth anniversary is right around the corner. By far the hardest book to bring into being. the hardest book to wrangle into something like coherence. I go back and forth on loving/hating these poems. Sometimes the style seems too stuffy and direct, but there are pieces in there that still stand up littered throughout.. I realized the first poem "estuary" is sort of about mermaids. The final poem, about the body and floods, is also about water, so it's little wonder that I find myself launching a new book that's all about mermaids and water.
These were the poems I was writing when I first moved back to Chicago. The poems I was writing before and during the first year or so of my MFA program, years in which my classmates scrawled things like "don't use the work 'dark'-it's cliche" and "please write a new poem." I was publishing quite a bit, however, and I've oft told the story about bringing my acceptance letters, sometimes letter effusive with praise, to keep tucked beneath my notebook during workshops lest I loose hope completely. These were the poems that won me probably the largest monetary prize I'll likely ever receive.. The poems that were meticulously arranged and rearranged and fretted over. The result of my serious bout with "book fever".
I was 32 when the book was released, madly in love with someone I should not have been, which takes some of the glitter off that fall in retrospect, but it was still a little glittery. I was finishing up my MFA and working on my thesis. I also had mono and a series of random sicknesses that persisted through the spring. If there was a ever a period of my life that I felt like I was "surviving' more than "living" it was that year. I have a hard time reading the poems without bringing back the months before and after it's release, probably moreso than the years leading up during which I was writing it.
I'd even be hard pressed to even tell you which was the oldest poems in the book, which was the last written before its publication. I'm pretty sure the earliest written during 2001, mostly since I barely remember writing much poetry at all in 2000 (I had been going strong in grad school, but hadn't written much in the year or so after in the upheaval. ) I imagine the last of them were likely written in the fall of 2004, before a slight shift in my work that bought about the poems that would come later in in the bird museum. It was a structural shift in my work, more thematically even than stylistically, but probably a bit of that as well.
I still wrote poems out by hand then. Still set out to write poems with a plan at that point. Still struggled when the plans failed to materialized. I was also still very much in the box when it came to how I thought about poetry and po-biz, but at the same time an outsider as someone who was publishing almost exclusively in online journals, someone without an MFA at that point and only then beginning to find community online. Only later would I realize that there wasn't just one box, but many. A million different ways to "be a poet".
And in fact, a mlllion different ways to approach the poems and the writing itself...