Prizes

I took a long break and am still
trying to figure out what to do next:
whether to vie for blue ribbons
or hoard all my pie,

whether there are still some
new buttons to sew on old
waistbands, or anything worth
mending anyway.

There are too many pickle makers
making pickles already — no way
to elbow myself into that
crowded kitchen.

I could examine my own wrist
for a while, or brace my foot
against the fake fireplace —
not go to the fair at all.

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5 thoughts on “Prizes

  1. You are scaring me a little bit…don’t quit publishing! I love your work and I am teaching you right now. This latest set of poems move and surprise my students. They had no trouble finding their way inside the heart of “tending caterpillars, releasing butterflies.” They loved “Salted Abraham,” and despite the lack of deep south in your speaker, felt her to be their own grandmother. “Just Before Labor Day” had a good discussion on diction and tone.

    I can go back to making assignments about the poets in our book, but once they get on the web and read essays-for-purchase about Dickinson and Whitman and Frost, they too often borrow stale ideas. For as long as you want to write, though, I am going to use some of your work as examples.

    • I can’t tell you how flattered and pleased I am by this, complynn! I love hearing how you’re making use of my poems in class and how students are responding — thank you so much for letting me know.

      I think what ails me may be typical for someone who is not on the MFA/academic path and is “mid-career” in something that is entirely self-driven.

      Despite everything I read that said, “Don’t expect your first chapbook to change things for you much,” I did expect this to validate that I’m doing the right thing and should keep going. When it didn’t really do that, I started to wonder what’s next and have had a lot of fits and starts since then.

      I don’t know whether to try to get individual poems published again (in which case, it’s probably not ideal that I’m posting all the poems I write — I always have great intentions to hold some back, but now it’s hard to write unless I have an audience), stick with chapbooks, or try a full-length book. Or just focus on writing a lot and see what happens from there.

      It’s all scary and optional, and now, rather than “Can I do it?” when it comes to chapbooks, I’m facing “Can I do it again?” It’s tempting to make my chapbook into the capstone, after which I never did much else — because trying is risky and can be painful, especially if the stakes are such that a losing contest entry means my winning one was just a flash in the pan that I can’t make happen again.

      To close on a high note … thanks again for this window onto your class and how my poems are being read and understood. It really gives me some motivation to figure out this slump and keep going!

  2. complynn says:

    I was once in a terrible slump. I read something in a magazine that boiled down to “If you need to get past a steaming pile of sh## in your road, don’t try to slog your way through it. Go around it, instead.” So then, what in your attempt to “get over it” is getting your boots dirty? What would be the walk around instead?

  3. Oh, wow, do I hear what you’re saying here–both in the poem and in your reply to Complynn. Like you, I’m in that weird creative limbo that comes with the realization that “I published a poetry chapbook, and not much happened.” I’m still writing poems, I’m still tinkering with my full-length MS, but I’ve lost my enthusiasm for sending out poems and trying to get them published. However, this past year I’ve been energized by working on a few prose projects, and the process of drafting poems remains a pleasure. For you, I like that you’ve identified having an audience as a motivation to keep writing. Having devoted readers–and I’m proud to say I’m one of them–can make the whole enterprise less “scary and optional.”

    Also, I elected to sit out a fair or two this year. That decision frightened me initially–what if I fall out of touch with all the other pickle makers?–but then it felt like a relief, a necessary breather. It’s helped me feel like I can build up my energy for next year’s fair, or the following year’s. I’ve read that creativity is cyclical: periods of depletion & rest follow naturally from periods of intense creating. Also, for now, it means getting to go to the fair as a spectator, to enjoy and take it all in–and observing, learning, and crafting a strategy for our own future entries. (Maybe some knitting? Or we could try flower-arranging?)

    • Thanks for letting me know that it’s not just me! It’s great that you can be an observer and enjoy and learn from that, realizing that your own fair days aren’t over — just paused. I’m glad you’re enjoying writing prose, too. And yes, let’s just forget all of this and take up knitting. Now, there’s a useful craft!

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