Wednesday, April 01, 2015

the writing life: origins...

Because things have been rather whirly and chaotic, this space has been a bit quieter than I like, so I'm thinking perhaps that in honor of National Poetry Month, I might spend a little time every day talking about poetry things here--inspiration, writing spaces, publication, putting together a mss, editing for dgp, etc.  Since my usual attempts at daily poems falter and implode at about day 5, maybe this will be a little easier to make happen. So today, I start at the beginning.

I'd probably like to say I was a precocious writing youngster who was penning perfect odes at age 14, but it was a bit more rocky than that.  I WAS a reader though, mostly horror novels and genre fiction--romances, YA love stories.  (I've talked about the early book fetish days here a bit., so it started young) When I was coming of age, it was the mid-late  eighties, pre-internet, and outside of watching television or movies on VHS, all there really was to DO was read, so I did alot of it. Nothing at all precocious.  I loved Christopher Pike. I loved VC Andrews.  A bit of Stephen King and all the imitators. I'd spend long weekends sprawled on my bed, clutching a paperback   I was fueled in my addiction by a couple of people.  An aunt who monthly surrendered up her horror and mystery novel purchases.  My father, a voracious reader himself even still, who hauled me and my sister to the Cherry Valley library weekly (while my mother, solely  a magazine reader, waited an hour or more in the car for us.)  Poetry however, at that time, seemed like something strange and archaic and not really something anyone was doing anymore.

When I was 9 or so, I'd inherited a beautiful encyclopaedia set that included a volume of plays and poems for children, which sported gorgeous engraved covers and slick pages, and which I spent many hours enjoying, though I barely remember how.  In school, we studied the usual Poe, Shakespeare, maybe some Emily Dickinson, but all of it seemed so much historical artifact.  I couldn't related any of it to the things I was reading in the present. In my high school freshman English class, we were challenged to write a poem and I remember writing one about a flamingo that rhymed perfectly, much to the enthusiasm of my teacher (or so I liked to think) But it seemed like a ruse, a clever game of moving words on the page.  I was getting the impression  that poetry was supposed to be dark, and deep, and profound, but I persisted in filling a  smallish blue lock diary with 8 line poems about crushes and kittens.  I remember having this creepy dream about a dead seagull and sitting straight up in bed and grabbing a pen and TRYING to be deep, dark, and profound.  it was terrible.  I still have it.  There was a poem here, a poem there, but while I was interested in being a a "person who writes" at some point, reality told me there was really no hope in such an endeavor.  That I really ought to choose a more practical career (I was considering all sorts of things then as possible career paths --law, journalism, teaching, interior design, marine biology.)

Under the thrall of a charismatic bio teacher and with a best friend all about enviroemental science, I set off my first semester for the Atlantic coast and a career in  the latter. (Forgetting momentarily that to succeed in science, you need good math abilities most often.)  But I was still writing --sometimes in journals, sometimes on the electric typewriter that was my graduation gift--not poems then, but short stories, the beginnings of play scripts (I'd been bitten by the theatre bug my senior year).  I spent time between classes poring over lit journals in the UNCW library.  There were a lot of beginnings but not much finished.  By the time I headed back the midwest a few months later, I was certain I was not a scientist after all, but was still pretty unsure of what exactly I was.    I liked writing, liked reading, but again, these weren't really options in my world.  I wound up enrolling in some lit classes at a community college to stay in school, and all that spring and summer wrote a series of rather spare imagistic poems that I started sending out to places I'd found in the back of Writer's Digest (I'd yet to discover Poets & Writers and WD was the only mag I had access to.)--many of them vanity operations, but less egregious ones than the National Library of Poetry. I had a box I carried around my parents house of typed poems and clipped out calls for submissions.  With envelopes and a stash of postage earned from helping my mom with housework. 

I eventually settled on majoring in English and minoring in Theatre, but I went a couple years writing little and what I did write was fiction for a workshop.  By early 1996, I'd started up the poems again and they were these darkish Dickinsonesque rhyming creatures that I thought were the shit.  There were quite a few years of this (well, the rhyming stopped) but more horribleness, more unsuccessful submitting.   I kept telling myself it was just for fun.  I was planning on teaching when I enrolled in my MA in Lit, , but at some point circa 1998, things changed.  I like to think a seminar in TS Eliot made things click. And suddenly, it was all about the poems.  Like it was all I wanted to do.  No teaching.  No other career plans.  It was the closest I've ever come to creative frenzy and it was wonderful and horrible all at the same time. The closest I came to feeeling like I had found my "voice" whatever that means (as if voice is this static thing and not this constantly shifting stream) I finished my MA exams, got my degree and then spent the next few months trying to get some sort of stable, quasi-literary job that would allow me the mental energy to still write. 

Eventually I landed my first library job and found that space.  Found the space to be able to create and still make a living doing something else .Publications started happening.  The poems got better.  Chapbooks, then a full-length book.  Then four more of them (and another out there in the world seeking a home as we speak.  At least two others still forming somewhere in the miasma. ) Somewhere in there I took a few years to get my MFA in Poetry.  I got better.  Or worse. Or different.  More sure/less sure of myself.  I ceased caring about a lot of things.  I started to care more about other things.  I started a lit mag.  I started a press.  Poetry, the thing that seemed like some petulant old anachronism suddenly became the center of all things. The thing which seemed an impossible dalliance, that slightly victorian hobby horse, became very much the way I live my life.  I tried other genres--more lucrative genres with more easily viewed markers of success.  Genre fiction.  Literary fiction. I lack endurance.  I lack interest.While I occasionally cheat on verse with prose in short installments, the poem is always the thing. Line breaks or no, it's always a poem, sometimes even when it's not.  Sometimes it's a collage or a painting, but it's still very much a poem.

{all this NAPOWRIMO month I will be blogging about poetry-related things --inspiration, publication, other verse-related randomness-- so stay tuned for more...}

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