Tuesday, February 16, 2021

writing history and myth

 I've always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it's more serious (the Chicago World's Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000's my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I'd written that involved external sources directly, but I'd touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din't have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems --my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel--all things that I've written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that's expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago's own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40's (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

When I was an English major in college, and into my grad school days at DePaul, I was really enthusiastic about the research part of a project.  The scoping and gathering of sources.  The learning and processing of new things.  What I hated was actually assembling them into a paper form. This seemed like an afterthought, that the fun--the discover--was already over. While writing poems and creative projects is certainly more interesting than a five paragraph essay, I have to be careful even now to not load myself down with details and then fail to actually write the finished project. This nearly happened with the HH Holmes subject matter, mostly because I was disappointed with what I had dug up, facts that painted him not a diabolical serial killer and more just a tabloid sensationalized opportunistic dude who happened to murder people on the verge of uncovering his crimes. There was no maze-like murder castle--and any dark undercurrent in the White City was no more than just the usual sort of Chicago lawlessness. 

I wasn't exactly  sure what to do with my research and wanted to abandon ship, but stuck it out, instead focusing on the women around Holmes, victims and co-conspirators, which was much more rewarding. Occasionally, in normal summers, I will  pass the guided ghost tours outside the Congress Hotel and they are always talking about Holmes somehow, though his relationship with that particular hotel is thin at best  (and the Congress' ghost stories interesting enough on their own.). I always want to correct the tour guide spouting the tabloid misinformation like it's fact.  But then, how is this different from the world? 

With our urban legend topic on tap this semester in the library, I've been thinking about how thin the wall between folklore and fact is. How often one is taken for the other. How they build upon each other.  How one mistelling or mistep can take 100's of years ti unravel. How 100 years from now, our own history could be murky enough to be mistaken for legend, legend for history...or do they somehow eventually become he same...

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