Thursday, November 11, 2021

twenty year itch | 2001

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I'd read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications--the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefullly between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn't start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of the very things that later mudded my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I'm not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader. By 2003, I was beginning to submit a manuscript and sitting in MFA workshops that always felt at best, not useful, and at worst, demoralizing.  I was learning the "rules" of poetry culture as academia knows it--arbitrary rules and classifications that make some poets matter and not others.  Some journals matter more than others.  Some prizes more important or sparkly.  I suspected much of it was BS, but it's hard to critique it when somehow, you still long to be a part of it. Because everything else is a sort of chaos. Conversations about it seems far too infrequent, short, or sometimes curtailed by those with vested interests. It's hard to see the shit when you're swimming in it. 

So much of my enthusiasm--for poems, for writing, for publishing--was under constant attack in those years, so much so that I needed a break after, during which I wrote very little. It took a while to get it back. Sometimes even still I lose the wind in my sails. 2001 was a delicious sort of freedom when no one was looking and you were sailing through the sky, and it was good, b/c it  kind of felt like no one was looking. Or only some people were looking and they wanted to see you succeed. There were no stakes or expectations because no one really new what to expect from you.  Or expected anything at all.  It was a drug to be sure.

Looking back, the poems are okay, but not the greatest. But it was okay. People seems to like them.  They were the best I could write at 27. I got better.  I'd hardly lived enough to write anything really interesting.  Barely been in the world outside of school. Each acceptance was this strange high--proof that I was not just deluding myself that life as a poet was possible. I didn't know about the rules, because no one had told me there were rules.  By the next year, I'd be writing even more and publishing regularly--putting together a chapbook. By the next, beginning to do readings and applying to a creative writing program.  all the things I was supposed to do as a poet, or so people were telling me.

Since 2001, it's been a long stretch of time in which many good things happened. I've written (if not yet published) 13 books worth of poems/prose. Placed poems in journals and with presses I really love.   I've read in amazing places like The Field Museum.  Had my poems taught in classes. Have even gotten paid on occasion.  Started a press that is still chugging along and met amazing people through that editing & design work. Not all was moving forward, of course....I lost interest after my program, then regained it tenfold.  Struggled for years with having time and energies to put words on paper. Took a while to figure out the world and determine what I want from poetry. What serves me, what does not anymore. How I want my "poetry career' to look going forward  

That too is a kind of freedom, an exhilaration, but sometimes I really do miss the clueless enthusiasm of my mid 20's. 

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