Here I Am Again, Again, Again (Part 1)

I’m just going to get this down, without any links or cleverness. My poetry writing has been deeply stalled out for a long time now, primarily by two events, one good and one bad:

1) winning a chapbook prize several years ago, and
2) the November 2016 U.S. presidential election and everything that occurred since.

It was a gift, an honor, and a thrill to win that contest and have a chapbook published. But as soon as it happened, it’s like I saw a tombstone in my mind. Seriously, I did — and on it was written the fact that this was the best and greatest thing I ever achieved in my writing life.

In the years since, I tried to prove that wrong by entering subsequent contests, the idea being that — though I’m not following the standard arc in many other ways (MFA, becoming a creative writing professor, etc.) — I would follow a standard path in which one prize led to another and another, and then I would sift through my little pile of chapbooks and assemble a book manuscript, and then that would win a prize and be published, and then … I would be a real poet at last.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I entered one contest after another — $25 here, $30 there — and the most response I ever got was the slow, quiet golf clap of the honorable mention. Which, when added to the foul cocktail of insecurity that is my usual state of being, just served to further prove that my one win was a fluke and would never be repeated — and that therefore, I was not quite real or legitimate.

And then, the election. If you recall back when I was writing and posting a lot here, I like persona poems, weird themes, and funny tricks. Occasionally, I get into a confessional vein where I expose more of my real life. But I don’t do protest poetry well, or the kind of poem where it’s like “Lulling you with beauty/Painting a deceptively tranquil scene/Pulling the rug out from under you –/aha! — here is the ugly and violent truth.”

Guess how essential funny ha-ha weird poems have felt since November 2016? Yep. On the flip side, guess how self-indulgent and navel-gazing it has felt to consider writing about my own life experiences? Yep.

When babies are in cages, in all of our names, and I can’t write about that because I’m not good at it? How dare I write about anything but that?

OK, this has become a two-part post because life goes on around me and there’s more that I need to say. I will pick this up again later today because I’ve told myself I can’t do other, less essential things until I get this all out.


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