Monday, November 22, 2021

november and other fevers

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick --with what turned out to be mono, though I didn't know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss--losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful. It had been a year since the editors of Ghost Road had called to offer me a contract, and in a year, we had cobbled out a lovely product, the cover graced by one of my favorite photographers, Alaina Burri-Weir (whose work had been featured on a couple chaps and wicked alice print issues). Some of the poems in the book were written my first couple years in Chicago, a time when I was getting my publishing sea legs and just beginning to read at open-mic-ish events all over the city. The first draft of the mss. had been completed in late 2003, as I began my MFA program and planned to use that time to write something new. I had sent it out a few time in various incarnations in those years, mostly contests, and even gotten a couple finalist nods,  By the summer of 2005, I was putting the very last version together--a complete overhaul of the structure--and that was the one that accepted. Because my sister was staying with me intermittently and I was easily distracted by fun, I would work on the book with a stack of pages and a red pen at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble on State after I got off work and before catching the bus home--rearranging pages, making small edits, feeling out the bones of the book. 

The oldest poem was written in maybe summer 2001, the newest in late 2004.  Most of the third section of the book was cleaved off what was turning out to be a second manuscript.  There was an immense sense of relief to have that first book checked off the list.  )in the days when I still had a "things you do to become a poet."  I imagine it's a lot like victorian spinsters who desperately long for marriage, or women who desperately want children but feel the stress of the clock.  All of us had book fever in the mid-aughts, strung out across our blogs and listservs and pretty much all of us--the ones who wanted it--got books eventually.  Many of us, more than one.  But first books were these illusive unicorns--the prize, the thing we longed for as we checked our inboxes and ran our fingers over poetry spines in Borders or Barnes & Noble (places which carried so little poetry, they'd probably certainly never carry ours regardless.)  

By the time the book came out, I was already writing different sorts of poems.  in the bird museum was accepted by Dusie in late October, right before that first book was released. I had already written the bulk of manuscript #3--girl show--my MFA thesis, which I would begin tightening in the program that fall to finish it in the spring. I would go on to more books, even despite a couple years of barely writing anything at all.   I thought these projects were all so different, though looking at them now, I'm not that sure they are, nor am I sure that what I write now is fundamentally all that different. I think I'm tighter a writer--a little more attenuated to sound and rhythm.   Whatever my "voice" is, I feel I can wield it a little more adeptly. 

There would, of course, be more questionable relationships, and that same one, running like a vein through nearly a decade, not always at the surface of the skin, but reappearing intermittently.  There would be glimpses of this and others in major characters in minor films, in salvage--details smudged and combined and altered for the sake of art.  I would leave it behind, but it would still take a while to not think about, to not write about it. Other people broke my heart in other ways--better men overall who just made unfortunate choices.  But also really good relationships (see "how to write a love poem in a time of war" in sex & violence.)

It feels like a long time, but it's really not that long at all. While Ghost Road sadly shuttered a decade or more ago, I do still have a cache of copies available in the shop, as well as a free pdf version on my website if you want to read it. I'll be posting bits here and there this week on instagram and other social media to celebrate...

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