Friday, June 10, 2016

La Belle

After a long publishing hiatus, my poem “La Belle” was published a few days ago as part of the third volume of The Avenue, a special themed issue titled “Woman”. Here is a link to the Amazon page for it. There are a lot of great stories and poems here, and at 12 dollars, it’s definitely as much fun as 4 cups of coffee.

I just wanted to share a little bit about my poem and about what I think are the benefits of my current project of taking classes and getting geared up the take an MFA.

This poem was written as part of a poetry workshop class, run by the inimitable Karyna McGlynn, a year and a half ago. It was 15 or so really cool undergrads and me, sharing our work, helping each other get better, and learning a lot about poetry. Karyna is a successful poet and had a lot of great insights about the craft, but also the industry (if that’s the right word for such a non-industrial enterprise).

This poem is a good example. It’s an ekphrastic poem, which is something I wouldn’t have even thought of doing before this seminar and was originally written as an assignment for the class.

Of course, the first draft was pretty raggedy and that’s the other cool thing about workshop classes. Getting input from 16 thoughtful people (or even six thoughtful people and ten people who are obliged to pretend to be thoughtful) can only make it better. I am dramatically happier with the end result than I was with the first version. Thinking back, even the less pleasant or thoughtful of the classmates (and there weren’t many) still taught me SOMETHING over the course of the semester. 

The poem itself has just been published, so go check it out. The song that it is responding to is “Lady Marmalade”, by LaBelle (sound familiar?), which was Patti LaBelle’s vanity group from the 70s. It’s vaguely based on some actual experiences, from my time in Montreal in grad school, when I had a good friend who sung in clubs and did a very great cover of this song. I hope I’ve captured something of what the scene was like in Montreal for this kind of music, in this context. I also like to think it says something about the male gaze, which brings me back to themed issue.  Finally, and perhaps most of all, it’s about what lasts and what doesn’t last and how some experiences just exist outside of time.
In any case, check it out. The poem itself is unlikely to be such an experience for you, but you never know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Real Life

Having recently spent seven hours in an urgent care clinic, I got to thinking about the things that draw me away from writing. Not just the things that take time away from anything I can carve out to be creative, but things that disturb the head space that I seem to need for anything remotely creative to come out.

It’s been a hell of a year and a half for writing.

Hurricane Jakey has been a blessing. My son is a very cool little person and I wouldn’t trade him for anything. But he’s been bad for my creative process and not just in a “I need to be in the right state of unhappiness to write well” way. I learned that I need more sleep than the average person to be anything other than a dreary zombie. I did not get a full night’s sleep for more than 11 months. I wanted to die. At least temporarily for like ten hours. The first night he slept through the night, close to his birthday, I felt like crying. Such a small thing I had taken for granted all my life. Going to sleep and safely assuming I’d be that way til my alarm went off. It was useful to know that it was possible to be too depressed to write, that whatever the optimal level of misery was for the creative process, it was less than infinity.

Everything flows from that. It was a hell of a year and a half for work, and I am only now digging out from under the various work projects I committed to and am behind on. The publications took a dip, the billable hours took a dip, and I have no doubt that I was not doing my best technical, professional writing. Or data analysis.

Oddly, my chronic health issue has been the least of my problems. Having Crohn’s Disease makes it always unclear whether you have a stomach flu or a flare or food poisoning. I’ve been blessed in general to be pretty good most of the time. My recent adventure turns out to have been, not a flare up as I originally thought, but E. Coli food poisoning. That coincided with my final paper for my lit class.

And speaking of class, it’s been an odd combination of a drag and really invigorating. It’s nice to have any contact at all with adults, but honestly, the fall semester, my first semester back, was not a lot of fun. It’s undoubtedly all what I put in, but I found myself doing the bare minimum of creative writing, even for class. I think the quality of what I produced was higher, but I just didn’t click with anyone in the class, or for that matter, my American lit class. This semester, my creative writing class was canceled, and I focused on the lit class and it was really great. Seriously, Post-colonial lit with Professor Aboul-ela is great and it seems to attract smart people.

Anyway, back to writing. It feels like something is coming unstuck. I hope that’s right. Now that I am less than 2 months behind on work and don’t owe anybody a term paper, I am feeling less stressed about everything and the writing is slowly coming back. Jakey starts day school in the fall and I am honestly looking forward to the extra 8 hours a week of absolute free time that I can fill how I choose.

I am working on a poem about castrating cows, which continues the theme I had earlier of farming accidents. Although, it’s not that different if you take the perspective of the steer.