Friday, May 12, 2017
"My poems are typically only parts of a greater whole, be it a chapbook, or a book, or just my body of work. Mine is more a cumulative, fragmented, disjointed effect rather than a striving to write one great complete POEM (The Wasteland or The Odyssey or somesuch). No one is probably ever going to look at one of mine and say this is an important, single life changing poem. But maybe they'll say it about a book, or my work as whole. And that's not how I think of them, not one big, honking rock that lands on your head, but a collection of interesting stones, glinting and relecting off each other." (2007)
Today is Manifest, that perennial cap-off to the academic year and send-off for graduating students. It occurred to me yesterday that is has been exactly 10 years since I finished my MFA, and while I didn't throw down for the pomp and circumstance of actual graduation (not being the ceremonial type) we did have a very nice reading of the graduating MFA-ers that even my parents came to. It was one of the very few Manifests (including today luckily) where it wasn't pouring much of the day, so despite my perpetual weird whenever family & writing compartments cross into each other, it was a nice day.
I was trying to think about what I was writing then, what I was doing, what I would be doing. The press was just beginning to get some footing--a good amount of submissions to choose from, people learning about us, our first AWP trip that spring, a small profile in Poets & Writers that Fall. I was just about to move into the Fine Arts Building, just about to amp up the publication schedule from about 5 books yearly while I'd been in school to 15 (which has now increased even more).I was also building the Etsy shop then and diversifying the offerings (paper goods, jewelry, soap, reselling vintage) in order to afford the studio space.
My thesis manuscript GIRL SHOW, was mostly done by that final semester except for some tweaking to appease my advisor (and most of those tweaks were scrapped before it was published after further thought.) I was working on some new stuff that semester, what would become parts of MAJOR CHARACTERS (some of them can also be read in my Dusie Kollectiv chap that I sent out that year.). I was also finishing up the Cornell poems and making that collab project happen with Lauren Levato that summer. (which is still one of the most satisfying pieces I've put out in the world and the one I am most proud of.)
I still have all the old mixed feelings about my time in the program. I still feel it was helpful, but I sometimes wonder financially (now, as I still pay my students loans each month, both from that program and my earlier MA in Lit) if it was actually, truly worth the expense. I started the program already publishing quite a bit in journals, already running wicked alice for a couple years, already had a chapbook slated to be published. I never quite felt like I fit in, a combination of these things and others that aren't really all that important now in hindsight--my attitudes toward self-publishing, decentralizing, Certain weirdnesses about the fact that I worked for the school (I called it my Good Will Hunting Complex) Certain shit-talking that got back to me. I was also too old (almost 30) and set in my ways to fall into certain mentor-mentee dynamics that worked for others. I had some great courses though with the visiting poets--Karen Volkman and Stephanie Strickland most noteably. Other classes were useful in widening my reading and spawning projects (errata, archer avenue). Others for introducing me to students who were invaluable as readers & editors (some of whom I would later go on to publish through dgp.) While I hated the group workshops in general (I've often thought of it as a whole bunch of people who can't even decide what a poem is trying to tell you what to do with your poem.), between those and the craft seminars, I did produce a whole heck of a lot of work during those years, the last of what went into the fever almanac, all of the in the bird museum and girl show.) While I wouldn't exactly do any of it differently if given a re-do, I do wish there were things I'd know and certain bullshits I wouldn't have bought into during those years.
It's almost though that final semester was a brief frenzy of writing related activity right before a post graduation lull--a feeling that I hadn't liked all those fingers in my poems and now that no one was looking over my shoulders, I wasn't sure what to do, where to go next. (I called it post mfa syndrome) Granted, I was busy with other poetry and non-poetry things, with the chapbook series, with the Etsy shop, so I only worried about it in certain moments of panic--like when people asked me what I was writing. I was technically writing a little, but not reugularly and barely at all compared to all the years before. The press and visual stuff was enough to keep me feeling reasonably productive, but it was more like treading water creatively somehow. . As I've often said it took the James Franco poems to knock me out of the funk--and after that I was fine and even able to finish some of the projects that had been floundering before.
And admittedly things have actually worked out pretty well since then, or at least since I've gotten my groove back--more books, more publications, more writing-related opportunities. I'm managing to both publish and write just about a book a year, which makes me feel much less like a failure with my time, which always seems to be a struggle--ie, despite having a full-time job and running the press and all the regular daily-life things that get thrown at you like commutes and errands and tiny mishaps. . Today is, after all, Friday, the day I devote to writing-related tasks, and while I don't have anything new to send out due to my self-inmposed April break, I did have two acceptances for new work in my inbox this week and a request for a blog feature. Plus new poems in HOBART today form the love poems series. plus finally finishing assembling the little book of Dali poems earlier in the week. I'd say I've been managing well the past 10 years. So, here's hopefully to 10 more..