Tuesday, February 21, 2017


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When I was in grad school the first time around, I got it in my head that I wanted to finish a book manuscript before I turned 25.  I had been writing, unsteadily, for about 5 years at that point, submitting a bit unsuccessfully, publishing in school lit mags, getting honorable mentions in college poetry prizes. Things had only recently been coming clear in my head about the potentials of "being a poet' in the year before that, my goals having been mostly geared toward teaching, however ill-suited I actually seemed to be for it.  Suddenly I was writing a lot (a combination of such clarity, a little publication success,  and no obligations outside my MA in Lit courses and studying for my comp exams.)  All I wanted to do was write, and was hoping to find some sort of stable, not horrible, bookish job that would give me the space (physical and mental) to actually do it. .  Even though my knowledge of both po-biz and poetry in general was seriously lacking, I had amassed enough copies of POETS & WRITERS to glean that to get a book published, you had to enter and win one of the prestigious contests advertised in those pages.  Easy enough, no?  I had always been a crack shot at contests--had won boring legal essay contests with cash prizes, free Noxema products from Seventeen Magazine for an essay about activism.  It never even occurred to me how bad my work really still was at that point--how long I had to go, how insurmountable the odds of winning even when you have a solid manuscript. I somehow zeroed in on the Yale Younger Poets Prize..it seemed fancy and ever so prestigious.  It seemed suited to novice poets (lolololol). So I set about pulling that book together and entering it in the contest.

I had a lot of poems--most of them terrible really, some slightly salvageable (and some that even made it into my chap a few years later--THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS DAUGHTER.)  I liked to write about myth then, as all beginning poets seem to want to do.  Other art forms--history, literary characters.  Gunivere.  Calypso,  Degas' dancers.  Gold Rush brides.   In short, writing about other things helped me realize I had very little to write about myself at that young age.   By spring of 1999, I had about 50 pieces that I spent hours formatting on my sluggish Brother word processor   (I had access to PC's in the labs at DePaul, but at home was computerless.) I distinctly remember staying up late, word processor on my lap, sitting on the floor, back against the couch, typing while I watched endless re-run episodes of the X-Files. I had written a poem called TAURUS, that was all about the differences in how men and women view art--men as something to be slain and conquered, and women, the opposite.   So I decided this would be my title--the thing that bound it all together.  I thought I was so deep for that, surely a genius.  I paid my 40 dollars or so, sent the manuscript on it's way, and of course, did not win.  I've no idea what did win that year, only that it wasn't me.

Shortly after, I packed everything up and moved back to Rockford from Chicago.  Finished my degree, found a job. Found a couple, actually, but only one that stuck.  Moved back to the city about a year and a half later.  Life sort of swept me up in a current, and it was a while before I got back to the poems.  By then online journals were coming into prominence.  A year or so later, I had been publishing on the regular, finishing newer work, putting together a chapbook that contained mostly new poems, but also a handful of those TAURUS pieces that were more promising. The rest were shoved in my old writing archives and only pulled out occasionally for laughs.

Whenever anyone asks me about my first book, I sometimes forget there was anything before THE FEVER ALMANAC.   That was the book that was slaved over, and edited, and readjusted over about a 2 year period to make it into the thing it became. By 2001, when I wrote the first poems in that collection, I was actually reading and aware of other poets work, so there was a huge difference between those pieces and the stuff I was writing for TAURUS.  I was also never more sure of myself than I was working on that first manuscript, more completely clueless and naive. Sometimes I look at that girl sitting there on the living room floor and laugh at her naiveite.  Sometimes, I want to be her again, so clueless and hopeful and determined.

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