Friday, June 10, 2016

over the hill and under it

So it's Friday and I am looking forward to settling in for the weekend, complete with giant pitchers of iced tea to quell the impending heat, a sizeable amount of cherries and blackberries, and a whole stash of new canvases to play with.  This morning, the library was unusually quiet, so I spent some time organizing dropbox and email files to attempt something like order.  I also spent some time giving the old blog a makeover, the first in probably like 8 or so years, making things a little bigger and brighter and less cluttered.

As I sit on on the very eve of the release of SALVAGE,  my sixth full-length book of poems, with copies due in my hands in a matter of days, I find myself wondering if one can say, at this point, that I've reached that strange, sometimes elusive, category of "mid-career" which is sort of weird when writing hardly seems like a career at all mostly and largely, that we, as poets, always seem to be waiting for that break that will make us--the right publication, the fellowship, the award (though admittedly,   I don't really pursue any of these things with so much on my plate.)  How can one be mid-career, when sometimes I feel like I am waiting for my "career" to even start?  And what is that even--a large adoring audience? critical success? money?

Every once in a while I like to re-read my blog posts from 2005--the year that I was working on finalizing what would become that first book, the fever almanac, which would be accepted that fall and would be released a year later. I had a weird, but very common hunger to have that first book out in the world, not so much because of the book itself, but because I felt like that would mean I had finally "made it" whatever "it" is. I was cresting 30 and desperately needed some sort of validation that the writing I had been doing for the previous 10 years (on an off at first, but solidly for about 7 of them.)  I was also in the midst of an MFA program, which may have fueled the urge. I compared it to baby fever, but in this case, not a baby, but a book.  My own shiny, glossy, bouncing creation. With an isbn and a sleek spine bearing my name. I'd published chaps of course, had issued a lot of little handbound bound and saddle stapled volumes (and still do). But the book was the thing.  I still sort of cringe at that seemingly arbitrary marker of success (usually marked off in a line with things like top-tier journal publication, major award or fellowship, tenure track position.)  But while I never wanted any of those other things, I wanted that book.  Badly.   Desperately in a "I can hardly think about anything else " sort of way.  I was close, about a dozen "nos" but a couple finalist and semi finalist nods.

I was obsessed, and it happened.  one morning my sister, who was living with me for a while handed me the phone and it was Ghost Road Press, offering me a contract.  I spent the whole day in the sort of high that you can never really reproduce. I had spent the summer of 2005 rehauling and re-ordering, and GRP was the first place I sent the final version to.  So there was that book, and a couple years later, another.  Then 5 years later, a quick succession of  3 more after a gap.   I still continued to issue small run chaps and zine of my own work.  Continued to send smaller mss. to  a couple to other presses and projects.  But it still seems sort of surreal that I have any books at all. That I've actually written 6 books (well actually 7, but the latest one is still out in submission).  Perhaps it's just poetry--I imagine working on a novel is very different.  Poems happen one by one and then you have something solid. And then you have a book.  And then you have the next.

But life goes on pretty much as it usually does.  I still have a day job where very few of the people I work with on a daily basis even know I'm a writer, much less that I have 6 books and something of a "career" .  Most of whom do not read poetry at all. .  I hide my poet-ness like my superhero cape.  When someone randomly on the street asks me what I do, I usually say I'm a  librarian, since when I say I am going to "work" that is what I am going to do (though technically I do not possess and MLS degree, so that is up to interpretation.)  On facebook and most online media, I list my job as running dancing girl press (which I also do, and where most of my  efforts and passion lie.)  Nevertheless, there is like this third leg of the tripod of efforts that is my writing "career"  that is almost invisible to the naked eye. I imagine most poets with day jobs feel this way, particularly outside of academia (which I am both in and out of since I don't teach, but I do work for a college.)  Being a "poet" sometimes feels very disjointed from the real work of living, even the work of someone immersed in poetry every single day and publishing other people's work.

As such, I am a little startled when I think about being a "mid-career poet"..mostly since it's almost like saying I am a "mid-career" mermaid. Where is the beginning?  Is it that first book 10 years ago?  Was it those first horrible poems at 15?  Was it the real work, the solid work, that started when I was in my mid-twenties?   Somehow I feel like I fumbled through those years as a novice poet and landed here.  Middle aged --I deny this to the death, but here I am 42, probably halfway to death (and that's if I'm lucky enough to live into my eighties.)  Mid-career, I guess, and chugging along...

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