Saturday, February 25, 2017
the poetry machine
Last week, I was trimming some chaps in the studio and caught sight of my top shelf full of all my own recent lovelies, which I joked on FB were probably the closest thing I would ever have to children (not having even the slightest motherly inclinations) And books kind of are something you give birth to, some with longer gestational periods than others, which explains that exquisite sort of torment when you have manuscripts looking for publishers. I currently have one book out in the ether and being considered by a favorite press that I hope will love it, but currently is in that weird in-between, full of uncertainty. Is it as good as I think? Am I deluding myself? If I dare look at it again after a couple months of hands off-ness, will I find it severely lacking I also, luckily, have a project set to be birthed in the next year or so, LITTLE APOCALYPSE, preparations of which are well underway--cover designed, galleys edited, print details laid out.
Not to mention the sort of first book crazy I fell victim to in the couple of years before my first manuscript was accepted--the days of raking my fingers longingly over spines in the bookstore and throwing money away on contests I would never in a million years win. It was worse because I had just turned 30--felt, naively that if I was going to be a "young genus" that my expiration date was sadly nearing somehow. The clock was ticking (all very ridiculous in hindsight). We all want to be the precocious young poet, the overnight success, whose first book lands to applause and attention. Some all of my friends from the blogworld (pre-FB) were beginning to sign book contracts and make their way into the literary world by 2005 when that first book was accepted. And really, it wasn't really ready until that final revision. And that "young genius" thing really isn't applicable to reality. Most of us will likely make small waves, and then hopefully, slightly bigger waves--the boon of being a slow burn is you're much less likely to burn out. I'm not even sure the waves don't get bigger and smaller depending on the scope and appeal of what you write. I've also been of the opinion that any book is an excellent snapshot of the work you are writing during a given span of your career. Obviously, I don't write the same way I did 10 + years ago, and I probably shouldn't if the goal is to be developing and evolving as an artist as you go. As a result I know some readers love certain books and not others, warm to given periods of work more than to others. I often feel this way about other people books, so it's totally to be expected.
I've had the good fortune to have been releasing books at a brisk pace the past few years, after a five or so year gap of nothing happening. When THE FEVER ALMANAC was released in late 2006. I had already found a home for IN THE BIRD MUSEUM at Dusie, so those two were close in birthdays, but for a few years I was suffering both the demise of a publisher that postponed GIRL SHOW's release until it was picked up by BLP as well as just a slower output of work in general. Post MFA, I was half-heartedly working on the poems that would eventually become the MCMF book, and what would become my BEAUTIFUL, SINISTER chap. I was also growing the press. moving into the studio, and selling a lot on Etsy, all of which took a lot of time and energy. From 2007 up until late 2011, when I undertook the James Franco project, I maybe wrote 20 pages of material. After that, it was like a dam broke, and things picked up considerably and I got back into a more normal routine of writing and publishing.
There were periods in there that I thought I might stop writing altogether--not because of any solid decision to do so, but just because my efforts were elsewhere. I would get this weird sinking panicked feeling when other writers asked me what I was working on, mostly because I was working at it so little. I had heard the stories of the people who had finished their MFA and never wrote another word. It was like an urban legend I suspected was more true than it wasn't. And weirdly somehow that seemed like it would be so easy to do--to let it go so easily. I'm not sure I could stop creating art or writing completely, or working to publish other peoples writing, but my own poetry, as genre seemed easy, even a relief, to let slip from my hands. And not just the poetry, but the business of poetry that I have never really felt at ease in. The posturing and unspoken rules and hierarchies and such that are sort of gross. To just walk away from it all (and it's not like I would be suffering financially by doing so.)
When I was working on the James Franco pieces, it somehow did so much to re-energize me and I have no idea why. Maybe it was the low expectations going in--how it was just a fun little thing and not "poetry". I could fail or, more importantly, let it fail because the stakes weren't all that high. After that, was writing like gangbusters, finishing the rest of that book and THE SHARED PROPERTIES OF WATER AND STARS. Then all of SALVAGE and LITTLE APOCALYPSE, all within a span of about three years. There were periods that were more fallow than others, but I would make up for the slow periods by insane periods of productivity. I still probably couldn't say I write on daily on the regular, though that's a goal aspire to, but I know how to deal with those restless feelings I start to get when life or other work gets too much in the way of writing. I guess I feel lately that's its all less dire now..that no maybe things are a little quiet and dusty now with that poetry machine, but itll dust off and begin again. And again. And again.