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Open Letter to Patti Smith, Day 15 (on truth-telling)

 

Oh, Patti, I am running out of truth to tell.

Of course, if I tell the absolute truth, I am running out of truth I am willing to tell.

Or I’m running out of truth I can tell without my inner editor screaming, “Stop being such a fucking whiner!” (My inner editor has a potty mouth. Sorry.)

Or I’m tired of insisting to my inner editor who is screaming directly into my ear, “But you can’t tell that!” that yes, I can. And being the sly little minx she is, she’ll swiftly change tactics to, “But are you sure that’s what really happened?” And I’ll say something smart like, “It’s not THE truth, it’s my truth.” And then she’ll get all potty-mouthed and furious again and start yelling, “But what kind of person says shit like that about their family?” at which point I make a Negroni and/or turn on another episode of Are You Being Served? just to shut her up.

I have perfected my spiel over the last decade since leaving graduate school about why I don’t go to poetry readings very often or why I don’t read that many collections of poetry. I have become the worst thing an artist can be—a liar.

I say my brain is just too full after writing all day at work to sit still and really listen to someone read poems. I say that what I want to do when I get home is relax and poetry isn’t relaxing, it stirs things up and makes me want to write.

And when I write I tell my secrets. To myself. And I don’t want to know them. I don’t want to know that I keep writing poems to an imaginary lover cause I’m trying to make up for never feeling loved by my father. I don’t want to know just how angry I am at God because even though I get that he’s the best parent ever, I still can’t figure out how to let him be the best parent ever. I don’t want to know that I’m terrified I’m as much of a narcissist as my parents. I don’t want to know how much loneliness I carry around with me, loneliness I picked up decades ago and have just never quite managed to put down.

I don’t actually want to know my truth and the poems, the beloved poems, the betraying poems, the longed-for poems, they never lie to me. And they won’t let me get away with telling lies so it’s better to leave them undisturbed. It’s better to keep them far away from the poems of others which might sing them alive.

It’s better to make that space to write only a few times a year, a door carefully opened for a measured time and then closed again at the end of 30 days. It’s better not to put myself in danger by keeping that door levered open, by refusing to let it close even if having to move between the poetry space and the everything else space is painful and bewildering and the image I return to when I think of it is a pregnant woman continuing to do daily things like wash the dishes and send e-mails and write blog posts while her child dangles partially birthed between her legs.

Remember I told you than an actor I met had levered something open in me. I thought it was just being able to talk with another artist as I used to in my grad school days. And while those conversations themselves bore and continue to bear fruit, I’m realizing now that what actually broke me was something he said when I was officially interviewing him, before we started to talk as friends. He talked about truth-telling being his ultimate goal as an actor, and about those moments of emotional truth also being what he was afraid of. (You can read the interview here as he says it much more eloquently than I’ve just summarized.)

I needed to be reminded that what I was made to do–tell the truth–was a damned scary thing. I needed to be reminded that what makes me an artist is that I do it anyway. I needed to be reminded that just as this actor sharing his story with me gave me the permission I needed to fling myself into poetry the way I once used to, that someone was waiting for me to write the truth that would give them the permission to do what they needed to do.

And I have to be fearless not just about facing what comes out from the end of my pen, but about putting myself in danger—by reading more poetry, by going to more readings, by having more conversations with other truth-tellers about how hard it is to tell the truth of ourselves—of telling the truth.

Open Letter to Patti Smith, Day 13

Tonight I am thinking about what it means to have a muse—someone who breaks you open or holds you open at the broken places. The muse doesn’t mean to be a muse, doesn’t know he is a muse (it’s always a man for me), but still, there he is willing the pen into the flesh, coaxing the flesh onto the page, showing you that the soul is merely puddle and puddle and puddle of ink to be harvested.

With the current muse, there is no sex in it. He is handsome and I know he is handsome  but I feel about his beauty the way I feel about the clouds in the sky. No, I feel about his beauty less than I feel about the clouds in the sky because I’m always trying to capture the clouds in the sky. I mean I don’t want his beauty. I want only the sound of his brain coming through his mouth and landing on the fuse of the nearest poem like a lit match. I want to be with him all the time (except when I don’t) but I don’t want to hold him.

I have been inspired to poetry by two men before and there was sex in it, or to be more accurate, there was the unrequited longing for sex. And writing the poems was the only way I could have them though that wasn’t something I would have said out loud then. I would barely have whispered it to myself. The poems were the only place I could feel safe with the way they made my body feel.

“You sound good baby” one said after he let me sit in with his band and that transmuted to “You taste good baby…” my desire spilling onto the page. Lust transmuted to literature.

With the other I wrote poem after poem after poem until I left him behind in another city and finally understood that what he did to me was “pray up that rag doll feeling/that giving over feeling,” that to me he was “the Holy Ghost coming…as breath sweet and sweaty.”

This new muse has already left me, as I knew he would, and I don’t begrudge him returning to his beloveds and I want him to return to his beloveds because he has suffered and this time, this place where he’s arrived after his suffering is precious and fills him with joy.

But I need to know he thinks I’m funny and smart even from so far away. True or not, it’s been seared into my brain pan that his regard is what cracked me open and brought the poems back. Which is ridiculous and ignorant of my history—the poems always return one way or the other—and true.

This feels dangerous, to admit this need. I have no working calibrator to judge what one should say out loud and what should stay silenced. And I admit I want to say the dangerous things because they are my litmus test. I need to know who can bear, who can survive my hunger.

I have no pithy ending, nothing that ties this all together. I have only hunger and I have a muse. I have only the terror I will feel when I put this out into the world. I have only the fear that in writing this I may have broken something and that I may, in fact, be too much. I have only the poems I’m working on now, and the ones I will work on when the time of this muse has passed. I have only my embarrassment over how important I’ve made him and my gratitude for his friendship. I have only me trying to put words around some understanding of myself.  May that be enough.

Friendship, Confidence, Superb Surprise!

by Kathleen Kirk, Wait! I Have a Blog?!

KathleenKirk

Kathleen Kirk. Photo courtesy of Ms. Kirk

I’ve been thinking about friendship and its surprises. And Emily Dickinson. I’ve recognized in myself both her intensity—the thing that was sometimes too much for her friends and acquaintances—and her shyness, her impulse to withdraw. If we give ourselves wholly to someone, in friendship and trust, and we are rejected or betrayed, it’s successively harder to give oneself wholly again.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

Now, Emily may have been talking about poetry or spiritual truth or ultimate reality here (her glimpses of it), not the confidences shared among friends, but I think her poem can apply to any of these things quite easily and well.

The meaning of “confidence” (I learned by looking it up in the American Heritage Dictionary) is actually “trust or faith in a person or thing.” After that, “a trusting relationship” and next “that which is confided; a secret.” These things all apply to friendship. It’s only the fourth meaning, “a feeling of assurance, especially of self-assurance,” that relates to what we often mean by the word “confidence,” but it seems reasonable that we acquire self-confidence from a secure and trustworthy relationship with the world and with other human beings, notably family and friends. If we haven’t had happy friendships, our confidence might be shaky indeed.

I’ve always been a writer and loved writing letters as a child. It was my way of maintaining connection with those close childhood friends I had to leave when my family moved from Florida, then Nebraska, and then went away for a year from our home in Illinois. I wrote long, newsy, frequent letters, and responded quickly when my friends wrote to me, which was much less frequently. I would wait and wait, longing for a response. Finally, weeks or months later, a letter would come, and I might respond to it that very night! One day I told my mother that I had written back right away to a friend I’d been waiting on with yearning, and she shook her head, letting me know my friend might feel bad, unable to write back quickly, that what was easy for me might be very difficult for her. My quick response might be more a slap in the face than the fond caress I intended. What a wake-up call at twelve. (And I was not quite ready to wake up!)

My mother also advised me not to tell secrets to my friends, nor to gossip, as anything one said was likely to get told to others and, if about someone else, back to that someone. This took me a while to learn, as I was always hoping for that true confidante, that dear, trusted friend, the kind one read about in books. As an adult, I have a few close friends, but I am more and more withdrawn in most social situations, noticing that the conversation is too often about people who are not there! Or the relationships are about getting something from the other person, not giving something—that there may be plenty of “networking” but little true reciprocity of a deeper sort.

What a delightful surprise, then, to find my friendship with Paulette growing deeper and closer than it ever had a chance to be when we happened to live in the same city. We met in poetry circles, and I was perhaps still working out my yearning to connect and my need to be quiet then, sensing that not everyone in a particular circle was someone who really wanted friendship but pushing for it, anyway. But both Paulette and I are writers and bloggers, private in our beings, public with our words, able to reveal ourselves to the world, to strangers, in a kind of trust that there are others of our kind out there, even if not always available to us in person.

It’s as if when I shine a light on something in my writing, some people can handle it better from a distance, or diffused through cyberspace. I’ve “met” many wonderful readers and writers through my own blog, people who seem to delight in my goofy humor and quirky insight, people who respond to my bouts of melancholy and occasional cry from the heart.

Paulette is one of these people, and I hope I am that to her. I remember when (at an AWP Conference in Chicago) she first mentioned her blog, thehomebeete, as a place where she’d write about cool and artsy stuff for the home, and I realized I might be too shy and technologically challenged to find it, read it, and figure out how to comment on it. But I did, and here I am now, guest blogging at thehomebeete!

Paulette’s blog has also evolved, and, while I still find beautiful and useful things for the home here, I also find beautiful and useful things from the heart. And hey, home is where the heart is!

Thank you, Paulette.

Love,

Kathleen

My imaginary life

We were going to be late for the party, but then M said, Why don’t we just see if we can tag along in G’s helicopter, which was both great and weird. I mean, how did this become my life? The view was gorgeous, though I had a few glasses of champagne and I’m glad we went home the old-fashioned way, hopping a ride in P’s limo. P and I had a long talk on the way about the difference between hip-hop lyrics and poetry and I think I’ve convinced him to write a guest post for the blog.

At the party, Meryl told me she liked my new book, which was sweet. M kept introducing me as his wife the poet, and it was funny to see how everyone reacted. All the Brits (and Scots and Irish and Welsh) wanted to know more while the Americans got a scared look in their eyes. Except, of course, for B and MD who started telling me dirty limericks when I told them I’d lived for a while in Boston and across the river too.

I’m actually glad M says I’m a poet cause when you tell people here you’re a writer, they think you’re about to feverishly press your most recent screenplay in their hands, and really, I don’t know if I could even give M a screenplay if I wrote one. He loves me and I’d still feel desperate. I like it here a lot but you have to have a high tolerance for plastic and desperation. I thought I’d feel more pressure to be “on” all the time, but it’s actually easy to hide if you just stand next to the person in the room who’s got the most wattage. And I like to watch M work the room anyway; he’s funny and charming and it’s good people-watching.

I think M is getting serious about quitting smoking, and maybe he would’ve quit sooner if I hadn’t mentioned that once I used to love a boy who smelled like Drakkar Noir and cigarette smoke. M doesn’t wear Drakkar Noir, but he uses this really good soap that smells great on his skin and makes me not mind so much the cigarettes. And he only smokes 1 or 2 a day when he’s with me but when he’s working, I’m sure he’s a chimney. (I’m realizing as I type this that I’m old enough that I remember when Polo was what all the high school boys wore then they went to college and wore Drakkar Noir. I don’t know what came after that.) When i feel myself getting mad about it, I hum the tune from Facts of Life: You take the good, you take the bad… Cause that’s what we’ve both signed up for.

For a while I wore CK One, I think because it was androgynous and smelled a little bit like a man. I tried Angel, too, but that was too sweet. It is nice to have a husband who can keep me in Jo Malone. It’s just nice to have a husband, and maybe I think it’s nice cause he’s away so often but it’s good when what you want lines up with what you have, right?

No epiphanies tonight, no ahas, no lightbulb moments. Just sweet contentment and gratitude and star-struck wonder. Think tomorrow for my morning write I’ll use as a prompt May Sarton’s quote about how we must make myths of our lives in order to understand them…

 

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