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Letter from My 48th Year (Mar 26)

I’m feeling a little bothered by the fact that yesterday when I was putting the poems from my manuscript on the wall, I was already scheming to take a photo to put up on Instagram. This is not a “social media” is bad situation. I think social media is a tool and, like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil.

What really bothered me is that it was a physical manifestation of my need to be seen, which is not a bad thing in and of itself; everyone deserves to be seen. But having had a childhood where my parents never took the time to see me, that need to be seen doesn’t feel like a normal human reaction to me (which intellectually I know it is). It always feels like a wound (which it also is).

I have obviously based my career as a poet on displaying my wounds to anyone who’ll look. But still, when that exposure is not quite intentional, when it feels like a reaction to something that happened long long ago rather than a decisive action, I feel what I guess is shame, or something close to it. I feel like I’ve lost control, which is another thing I dread. I also feel like I’m doing something wrong as a poet by letting you into the early part of the process. Maybe I feel like I’m jinxing it. Or maybe it feels like hubris: who am I to brag about the book I’m writing like anyone really cares?

And perhaps that’s what I’m really fighting. That leftover-from-childhood voice that’s screaming its head off: You don’t matter! Nothing you do matters! No one cares! Stop trying so hard to make everyone care cause they just won’t! You’re not worth caring about!

And yes, I do know that that voice is an asshole. And I also know it’s dead wrong.

And so I’m going to keep listening to Josh Groban’s “Symphony” and start some preliminary work gathering poems for the next collection while I give the Dad poems some time to rest and breathe before I look at them again. And yes, I’m going to prove that damned voice wrong.

PS You should read this article. And listen to this podcast episode from Thirst Aid Kit. Then give Chris Evans my digits and tell him to text me.

 

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Letter from My 48th Year (Mar 25)

This book of poems I’m working on is breaking my fucking heart.

There’s really no other way to say it. I’m at the stage where I’m taping it all to the wall as I arrange the pages into sections (cause Katy Day was right about that!). I know I wrote the poems. I know I know what’s in them. But to see all of that rage and grief all in one place is overwhelming. And I’m also realizing how much I miss my father. Our relationship status has always been, “It’s complicated,” but I miss talking to him about what we’re watching on TV. I miss sitting at his kitchen table and listening as he holds forth on whatever’s on his mind. To read these poems over and over again as I find their right spot in the book is a little like losing him over and over again, which I suppose is how it was in our actual lives together.

I’m also listening to Josh Groban’s new song “Symphony.” Though it’s a romantic love song, it seems to resonate with what I’m feeling and thinking about my father right now.

“I’m staring at the empty page trying to write the things I didn’t say to you.”

“You deserve a symphony.”

“I need to know you feel me with you even when I’m gone.”

I had planned to write something different to you today. I was going to write about the panel discussion I was part of the other night at Forum Theater after a performance of Nat Turner in Jerusalem (which you need to go see!) The other panelists included someone from Black Lives Matter DC, a reverend who works in urban ministries, and a woman who works in the arts in prisons. We were asked what justice looks like for us in our work. I wasn’t sure what to answer. I am certainly concerned with the issues of the day but they don’t often show up in my arts practice. Eventually I said that for me, justice looked like everyone having a voice and like everyone feeling seen.

And that’s why I need to keep slogging through this book though it keeps breaking my heart over and over again. Someone needs me to articulate my complicated grief because they’re desperate to see their own. So on I go…

 

Letter from My 48th Year (Mar 17)

I was excited to write to you on Thursday and had emailed myself a blog post I scribbled during lunch to share with you. But I got home late from an invigorating conversation about Nat Turner in Jerusalem (if you see the show at Forum Theatre next Friday, yours truly will be on the panel afterwards) and thought I’d just post it on Friday morning. Except the menstrual cramps started in the middle of the night and I spent Friday having the worst cramps I’ve had since I entered puberty a zillion years ago. I think it was my uterus’ payback for letting me have a month off from  menstruating last month. Neither perimenopause nor having a woman’s body in general are for the weak. I’m just saying…

And you don’t need to know any of that to read the post that follows, which is about poetry. But if this is indeed some sort of journal of my 48th year, it didn’t seem right to babble away happily—which is what follows—without ‘fessing up to having spent a whole day wishing I could rip my uterus out of my body. Sigh.

On that disturbing image, here’s the post I meant to share with y’all on Thursday. And yes, all the excitement there within still applies… or will in about another day or two when my hormones are done being monsters.

Several people have told me I should write a book (of prose not poetry), and I think they’re right but I don’t know what to write a book about. I saw this piece this morning about what it means to write what you know as I was flitting around the Interwebs, and I asked myself: Well, what do I know about? And I know about poetry, or I should know about poetry, or I know about writing poems, and anyway, I started writing about poetry. I know what I don’t know about poetry, I know what I don’t care to know about poetry, but I have no idea what I actually do, in fact, know about poetry. So I’m writing from a place of discovery (remember that manifesto of mine?) and perhaps one of the things I will discover is that I’m not writing about poetry at all even as I write about poetry, and that will be fine.

I don’t know if this project will persist, and that’s fine too. Maybe all I will discover is that I do not actually want to write about what I want to know about poetry. Maybe the only true thing will be I am interested in writing poems, but I’m not so much interested in poetry. Perhaps I will discover that when I say “poetry” it does not mean what I think it means. (See what I did there? she wrote, suddenly feeling anxious that she was doing far too much thinking about poetry and what if that was the type of thing that dries up poetry forever?)

More to follow, but obviously not on the blog, because that would defeat the purpose of writing a memoir about writing poetry… or something like that…

Letter from My 48th Year (Mar 13)

In the interest of total and complete honesty, please know that I’d much rather be finishing the last pages of Lisa Kleypas’ Midnight Angel than writing right now. In an alternate scenario, I’d like to binge-watch two episodes of Murdoch Mysteries instead of writing right now. Are you sensing a trend?

All I want to do is read and watch TV. I don’t want to do laundry. I don’t want to eat healthy meals. I don’t want to do my taxes. I don’t want to set up a grocery delivery for this weekend.  I don’t want to write this blog.

When I was a child, books and sleep were the only way I could escape from the fear and anxiety that plagued my home life. I generally went to “take a nap” an hour or so before my mother arrived home, hoping that by the time I woke up a couple hours later she’d have sealed herself in her room for the night. The rest of the time I lay in bed or whatever safe spot I could find reading, occasionally age-appropriate literature like the Mary Popppins series or the Little Women series, but generally completely inappropriate literature like the endless stream of Harlequin romances I borrowed from one of my aunt’s friends, Victoria Holt novels, and all of Mario Puzo.

Decades later, in grad school, when starting to write about my difficult relationship with my parents, I escaped again—this time to TV. When I didn’t have to be on campus or I didn’t have homework due, I’d spend hours and hours unable to do anything other than stare at the TV.  I don’t remember in particular what I watched, but we had cable so I’m sure it was a frenzied assortment of high and low brow movies and whatever TV shows were popular in the early to mid-oughts.  With the help of conversations with assorted friends and after fantasizing a few too many times about throwing myself down the stairs at the place I was working for the summer, I went to see the on-campus psychiatrist who informed me I had “depressive disorder, unspecified.” She put me on Zoloft, which helped me bear the pain of baring myself on the page and helped me to live a life apart from copious doses of screen time.

I’m no longer on Zoloft, and I’m no longer depressed, though, like everyone, I do need a good wallow every now and then. There is something going on with me right now, but I can’t tell you what it is. Not because I don’t want to, but because I simply don’t know. I suspect there’s something I’m processing at the deepest levels—possibly because I’m at the culmination of all the poems about my father, possibly because of the anxiety-ridden zeitgeist we’re all feeling, possibly because my hormones have turned into assholes—and it will reveal itself to me when it’s good and ready. In four pages of journaling, or a new and unexpected poem, or it will just fall out of me during a friendly conversation. Till, then, excuse me, I have some literary kissy face to eavesdrop on.

Open Letter to Joni Mitchell, Day 1: Drifting

 

BananaBread

This is the banana bread I made using Ruth Reichl’s recipe so it feels appropriate for this post.

I have just finished reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. In it she writes about the many characters she took on—wig and dress and makeup and voice included—in order to eat at the restaurants she needed to review for the New York Times without the establishments figuring out who she really was. It’s a fascinating study in how you get treated one way if people know you wield power and another way when you look like you do anything but. (This isn’t news now nor was it news when Reichl wrote the book in 2005, but it’s still interesting to see how it plays out in the life of someone who is quite different from me.)

What really struck me was how Reichl felt as she slipped in and out of her different personas, how they brought out the best in her and the worst in her. How she so clearly understood what made a woman invisible (which made a great disguise but an emotionally wearing experience), and how one disguise as a red finger-tipped, long-haired blonde named Chloe taught her—as she put it—“that I did know how to take advantage of a man after all. When had I learned this? And what was I going to do about it?”

In the end, Reich wearies of rarely eating dinner with her son—who’s still in single digits—and of dipping in and out of personas. So she finds a new job, and there is—at least for a decade or so—a happy ending.

As I think of how different hair and clothes made Reichl feel, I’m thinking about how my hair has changed radically over the last few years and how I visit store after store and website after website hunting for “my look.” It’s starting to dawn on me that I’m a little lost. I say a “little lost” but it’s also possible that I’m completely off track. It’s easy to change the little things (especially if you start going to a barber so it no longer costs a fortune to change you hairstyle, and you also make piece with a certain credit card bill by praising yourself for paying off a number of other credit card bills), but there are larger questions to be asked, larger changes to be made. I just don’t know what they are.

I hate it when someone describes me as impulsive, yet, if I’m honest, there’s something that’s comforting about impulsivity. Join a gym! Join Weight Watchers! Join this Meet-Up group (that you never go to!) Go blonde again! Embrace your latent goth/punk side! Get a new tattoo! Join an online dating site! Vow to get up 1/2 hour early every day to go exercise!

And while those things—well, most of them—are beneficial, they’re kind of like putting Spanx on my life. They smooth out the bumps for a while, but only for a while. There are deep changes to be made. I don’t know what they are, but I do know they require deep thinking. Which I’m terrified of. It’s one thing to think deeply about the things that happened in my past, which offer fine fodder for poems, and also have the benefit that I don’t really have to DO much because it’s all in the past.

But to think deeply about the present, to admit how damned comfortable I am, and how it’s preferable to complain lunch after lunch, and journal entry after journal entry about my job than to actually face the fact that I’m bored but don’t know what to do next because next has always magically arrived and I’ve not really ever had to set any goals…

I was talking to someone the other day about how I have never really wanted to be a writer, which may seem odd because I am a writer. But that’s the thing, I am a writer. Just like I’m Afro-Caribbean and a cis-gendered woman and the oldest of four and brown-eyed. Being a writer has always just been something I was born with, a pre-existing condition.

This is possibly the part of the conversation where you say, “Well, what is your passion?” And I don’t know if I have one of those, nothing long-term anyway. I’m not short of enthusiasms, but they wax and wane, and the thread that runs through them eludes me. I think it’s there, waiting on the tip of my tongue for me to articulate it, but for now I’m tongue-tied and lost.

I’ve been quite content to just drift along in life. And I have to be honest, it’s worked. I’ve been able to earn my way out of poverty*; I’ve published two chapbooks and numerous poems in magazine; I’ve interviewed countless people I never expected to call on a telephone or sit across from like Liesl Tommy, George Lucas, Josh Groban, John Barrowman; I’ve been to Paris and several times to London, and I’ve lived in Italy. I’ve manage to get promoted up four grade levels in the same department, and—since I’m not being modest—I—with help, of course—founded the social media program for a federal agency. Which is all great, but none of this was a goal. I’ve been smart enough to recognize opportunity—which I realize can be its own gift—but as I look out into the great unknown (my agency possibly closing down, life at 50, etc etc etc), I don’t want to drift anymore. I want to have something to work toward. I want to know who I really am, what I’m really made of. At least I think I do. Cause, let’s face it, drifting is not just easier, it’s more comfortable, and most likely I won’t have to give up a thing. But goals are better, right?

To be continued…
*I mean my own personal poverty, since fully taking on full financial responsibility for myself once I graduated college.

The Writer’s Rituals

miss the deadline
hate all the pens except the one that’s lost
borrow someone’s text
borrow someone else’s text
kill all your babies*
re-define the verbs
don’t remember what happened the right way
write so objects in the mirror are farther away than they appear
write with one eye closed
write with ears full of sealing wax
measure the distance from your desk to the coffee pot in unwritten pages
write all the wrong words
mispronounce everything especially around line breaks
write only with pencil shavings
read too much
read too little
read books that are not yet written
bring snacks to the book club
never join a book club
club the books you don’t want to read
sell out each time you write a story
make a story from each time you sell out
keep a list of favorite best sellers
add “in bed” to all your motivational quotes
keep a common place book
burn the common place book every night and start again
never sleep at night
sleep at night only when you should be writing
jump off the cliff with a notebook strapped to your back
write like nobody’s listening or will ever listen
write like books are dead
write like English is your 3rd or 4th language and you sometimes speak with a lisp
write like a motherfucker**

*I promise I’m not promoting infant genocide here. “Kill your babies” is the phrase writers use when they’re talking about a line or phrase that they absolutely love but, for whatever reason, doesn’t belong in the piece of writing they’re working on

** I don’t usually swear when I write, and I’d probably be too mortified to say that out loud, but come on, that’s one of the only true things in this list….with many thanks to Cheryl Strayed and the Rumpus for coining it first

In high school I flunked the balance beam in phys ed…

manuscriptonwall

My next book’s a work-in-progress…just like moi.

Temps notwithstanding, spring really has sprung. At least that’s what I’m attributing my cleaning jag too. Clearing out the “junk drawer” of one of my filing cabinets, I’ve come across quite a few treasures: copies of the first NEA Arts magazines I wrote by myself, an interview I did with a food historian for American Spirit, a mini-collection of music poems that must have been the hand-out at a now-forgotten workshop, Maureen Seaton’s reading list from the very first poetry workshop I ever took, the essay I wrote to get into grad school, a profile in the MFA newsletter from my first year in the writing program.

I’ve just finished reading a stack of e-mails I’d printed out from when I was on sick leave from work with pneumonia from December 2005-April 2006. I’m both tickled and alarmed by the fact that even as I sent my boss updates on my clearly deteriorating condition, I continued to also give her updates on all of the work I intended to do while I was on sick leave.. Here’s a sample, from January 2 (which I think was a day or two before I was admitted to Adventist Hospital for a week).

“I’m going to the doctor tomorrow afternoon. my lungs are still full of crap and even walking to the front porch to get my mail makes me out of breath. I’m thinking I won’t be back at work until monday, but I’ll see what the doctor says. Unless the doctor forbids me from leaving bed the rest of the week, I’ll plan to get as much work done at home as possible….”

Did I mention that at this point I’d been diagnosed with walking pneumonia?

I carry around this idea in my head of myself as a slacker. But then I read e-mails like that, or I think back at how frantic I was to get as much work done as possible leading up to my fibroids surgery, and I realize that that particular story I tell about myself isn’t exactly accurate. I mean in one e-mail I tell a colleague I have pneumonia, but “I’m going to try and stop by on Thursday and pick up some newsletter stuff [to work on].”

I feel guilty about time off. I remind myself often that we have an allotment of sick days for a reason. That my lungs are still damaged from my 2006 illness and no one expects me to trudge into work on 100-degree days. No one’s surprised when allergy season comes along and I have to take time off because my asthma’s acting up. I know the whole spiel about taking time off to take care of ourselves so that we don’t end up with something worse. And still, I feel guilty.

I come from a long line of women who can’t sit still. They are always sweeping something or cooking something or washing something. Even when they’re sick or exhausted, chores have to be done. Their lives seem to revolve around action, not thinking. If you’re not actively doing something, then you’re wasting time.

I live a life of the mind. I’m thinking about poems, about PR campaigns and interviews for work, about what I want to tackle next in my ongoing practice of self-improvement. I may look passive, but mentally, emotionally, I’m hard at work. I’ll cook, clean, and wash as much as I need to so I don’t live in a total pit, but I’d rather read a book or watch a good TV show, whatever gets me to a thinking place. Still, though I intellectually know I’m doing something, my DNA keeps telling me something else.

And because I’m already carrying around this guilt that I don’t do enough, when it becomes imperative that I not do anything due to illness, the guilt intensifies. Sigh. While I have learned that I need to relax and take days off and enjoy them, I’m still working on not having to spend those days shushing the chorus of “I shoulds” yelling in my brain.

And now as I’m easing back into full-time work, I have to keep reminding myself that I should, in fact, be “easing” back into it. Sure my outside incision has healed well, but there’s still numerous incisions inside of me that are aggravated every time I bend over, or take a walk, or go up a flight of stairs. I have to remind myself to check in: How do I feel? Am I in pain? Am I tired? I still have another week at home telecommuting. And I’ve promised myself that once I’m commuting to work again, if I’m overly tired at the end of the day, I’ll work out an arrangement for a few weeks so I can continue to telecommute a few days a week until my strength’s back and riding the Metro doesn’t make my insides ache any more. And maybe, just maybe, I won’t feel guilty about it.

 

Musing on the Muse


Christian Kane was briefly a muse. This is from a poetry reading in Charleston in October 2011.

Today I finished May Sarton’s 1975-1976 journal, A House By the Sea. In it she writes that for her , the muse has always been female. Though I write so often about what I generalize as “women’s concerns,” my muses have for the most part been decidedly male. By muse, in this context, I don’t mean the general inspirational element, but rather a real person who has directly inspired a poem. In Chicago, I wrote a lot about Ross Bon who led a jump blues outfit, the Mighty Blue Kings. While I was studying for my MFA, my muse was a blues-playing professor in the Lit department. Currently, it’s Michael Fassbender, though his museship seems somewhat different from his predecessors in that I’m not responding directly to him but using his words from an interview, which have already gone through the filter of someone else’s editor. Though I suppose one could argue that it’s because I was so powerfully affected by him as an actor that I decided to seek out his interviews as source text in the first place.

While I generally have a crush on my muse, not all of my crushes become muses. I’ve never once felt inspired to write anything because of George Clooney. And while my earnest sixteen-year-old self (hand) wrote a moving, shocking, gripping, hearbreaking , tearjerking, postively awful screenplay that was supposed to star Matt Dillon, even this earliest love of my life hasn’t inspired any poems.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you what makes someone a muse for me. They capture my imagination for some reason but to articulate that reason is beyond me. It’s not mere attractiveness, though, in my eyes, at least the ones I’ve named above are quite handsome. But it’s something to do with their talent and, even moreso, their ability in their performances or with their very presence to literally drive me out of my head for a moment. To get me past the editors, the censors, the dot-connectors that all crowd my head to the secret place where the poems wait.

My mother—and my father to a lesser degree—are central figures in my work but I don’t know that I’d consider them muses. They’re far too bound up in who I am. It’s as if when I write about them, as I try to unravel the self I’ve become, it’s an excavation. While the poems that are muse-born are a journey. In both cases the endpoint is unknown but it seems to me a different type of discovery. One’s a sloughing off to find the song that’s already there, perhaps, while the other is a new song entirely. No, that sounds entirely too pat. I think maybe one is a spiraling inward while the other is a spiraling outward. And this is, of course, speaking as if the processes really are that divergent, when it is more true to say that the places where the lines are blurry are much more numerous than the places in which they are distinct.

I should add that I have had women muses. Billie Holiday is a motif through many of my early poems, and even relatively new ones like “The Makers of Memorials.” And Eva Cassidy. I don’t know if Colette and May Sarton can be considered muses or if they are merely influences, and perhaps there isn’t really a difference.

But that’s enough about me and my muses….what have you to say about yours?

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

Learning Curve

“When I began writing those poems I had had the dream that I would celebrate my sixtieth birthday with a book of joys, a book speaking of fulfillment and happiness. But on the final re-reading I saw clearly that is an elegiac book and that the seeds of parting were in it from the beginning. This is where poetry is so mysterious, the work more mature than the writer of it, always the messenger of growth. So perhaps we write toward what we will become from where we are.” — May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

A poem for me begins with a phrase that swims its way up from deep within my body, or a snatch of conversation that tumbles over and over on my tongue, or sometimes even a method—a collage poem or something excavated from someone else’s text. But it never starts with an idea. There is no plan for what I will write. Though I know I will discover something in the writing, I do not know until the words are secure on the page what my question is. Writing poetry—and actually all of my literary writing—is like speaking in tongues: I let go and let my better self takes over, the part that never strays from its intimate conversation with the Creator. I remember when my first chapbook was published how shocked I was when everyone said that the poems were so sexual. It took years for me to see that the poems I thought were just a celebration of music and musicians who moved me were also poems about hunger, about longing, about wanting to be touched. In retrospect it’s clear that the person I was then—caught between my fear of intimacy and my equal fear of being in relationship—would puzzle that out on the page. Writing is my way of thinking, it is my safe place to feel and my safe place to reveal myself to myself.

I have always thought my best poems were the ones I didn’t understand. I instinctively know that the logic of them makes sense, that they are “right,” but I usually can’t articulate why I feel that way, what is so right about them, or even what I am trying to say in them. Over time I’ve found that those poems, the ones where I almost can’t decide if they are successful or not, are usually the ones in which I’ve made some huge leap forward—in style, in understanding—and it may take months, and sometimes years, for me to understand what the attempt is.

Poems are mysterious creatures to me. I am suspicious of high school teachers who claim that what is going on in a poem can be assessed with multiple-choice tests. While I agree that there are many poets who are better at probing the mysteries of their poems than I am—I am not the type of reader (or writer) who needs every metaphor to be logical or every motive to be crystal clear for a poem to be satisfying—I also think that even the most ardent sleuths of their own work are, at most, just giving their best guess of what the poem is about. And that to me is the most joyful part of writing, that the more we write, the more still there is to be discovered.

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