Here I Am Again, Again, Again (Part 2)

During the years that I have not been writing much poetry, I have found many ways (some better than others) to sublimate that yearning: tending a huge pollinator garden and raising butterflies, compulsive jigsaw puzzling, “Hey, why shouldn’t I binge-watch high-quality TV shows? Everyone else does.” Facebook.

One of the best, most enriching ways I’ve skated away from confronting my real creative self, and the way it most needs to speak, is by becoming involved with my local community theater group. Talk about ventriloquism! If I can feel some of that same satisfaction by delivering words that other people wrote, or by (my favorite — seriously, I love it) adapting a book into a script and helping it come to life, then maybe I never have to write another poem.

And if I don’t, then I never have to try to rub those sticks together again and find that they’re still just as damp, and confirm — again — that I just had that one spark, and that’s it.

This work has been satisfying, and real, even though it’s been a bit of a dodge. It has sustained me creatively and has also meant that I have a whole new community of good friends I would never have met otherwise, even though most of us live in the same neighborhood. I first came into it because my chapbook (my only one, remember) was made up of persona poems that lent themselves well to a dramatic reading. I intended to just direct that and then disappear, pretty much. But I didn’t — because I was fully welcomed into the group — and I’m so glad.

Most recently, I directed a staged reading (on Zoom, of course) of a very odd book of poetry, prose, and music. (I’m not going to mention it by name, for reasons, though the book has been out of print for quite a while.) My husband brought this book home for me this fall from one of the many Little Free Libraries near us because he thought it looked like something I would like. Indeed, this late writer shares a lot of my sensibilities and interests, and I thoroughly enjoyed the month or so that I spent adapting his book and directing others in how best to present the ideas that he no longer can on his own.

On the night of the reading itself, all of us (well, almost all — there’s always a crab or two) enjoyed this strange work and found ways that it connected with us, spoke to our own experiences, and enlarged our view of the world. Not once did I think that this writer didn’t deserve for his work to be presented because, while he achieved a decent measure of fame in his lifetime, he’s not as timelessly lauded as, say, Robert Frost.

Because it’s not a contest.

The theme of this writer’s whole book is the importance of being fully alive while one is alive, and that there is significance and dignity in even the smallest things that help us in that daily effort. If his words helped me feel that way for the month-plus that I worked on this project, if the actors and others I worked with felt some of that same vitality, and if all of us (including, or even especially the writer) gave our audience an hour of warmth, laughter, and contemplation on a December evening … isn’t that enough?

I was thinking about this while walking the dog this morning. What if, in a sense, I “adapted” my own work — meaning that I looked at my own writing as charitably as I do other people’s, sifted through to find what is the strongest and seems to work as some kind of whole, and presented it in a different form?

What different form? Ohhhh, a book is the most logical, and that way lies contests. But I promise, contests and prizes will not be the main point this time (a point — I am what I am). Instead, I hope to give my own work some of the same respect that I give to others’, to enjoy and admire some of it again, and to say that while it will always fall short of the goal — perfection! — it is also somehow enough. And real.

What’s next for this blog? I’m going to commit to one new post each week, whether it’s a poem, something like this, or a recap of any of my various dodges (for example, I finished a puzzle last night and am stalled out on Season Two of The Crown). It helps me to write like this, and if you’ve ever felt blocked in your writing or in whatever matters to you, maybe it helps you to read it. If it does, that would definitely be enough.


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.


Steal the Pretty Tray

Hang a mirror on a summer-hued cocoon,
feel a touch of coffee that makes the best of
small changes. Books are more enjoyable with
a small woven basket and a handy bar cart.
Silence and favorite tricks. Your trouble spots
are more durable than your perfect happy place,
but a helicopter is smoothly on the fringes of
the room, still trying to keep afloat. A light.


The Look of Aged Copper

They see the person who knows the perfect canvas
for turbinado sugar, goldenrod, light showers.
How to be a better parent—that’s the job.

Learn more about wind, make it shine under your
banister rails, hunt for sounds around you, roast
the seeds of summer, the grifter’s other eye.


Powerful Water

From now until Labor Day, at the beach
a metallic balm in the sun, a mist at the end
of the sun. The sun. Years later, a ghostly glow
that becomes our world, the heart of our lives
this side of sleep. Sleep. Sleep is trickling in
airy sand. Hello, beach. Wake up every day.


The Moment We Decided

Don’t take the heat for your return to the 1900s.
We’re fans of the star of everything you dreamed up.

Create a home for a skeptic. You’ll go back to the bottle,
a trace of berry minerals, the chill throughout the day—

this self-proclaimed skeptic is diving deep into the oil,
a balm of light, a golden new conceit to inspire you.


California Dream

It starts with a smooth, sweet resin
in an elegant, seaweed-driven city.
That’s what gives unicorn-like colors
around the green latte stones like
liquid pearl sea kelp. I see lots of
colors, craft-store gems, a mellow
glitter of lemons and sunshine.


The Allegations Have Been Completely Fabricated

At the end of day one, she rejoins the team.
She’s in a mood to catch the chatter of a bed.
After several hours, smoke. Electric blue boots
down the catwalk. Makeup smudges around
her eyes. He’s on the phone: “Hey. Doing good?”
She is already planning her next ride
to Popeye’s in drag. It’s a laid-back birthday,
a tabletop vignette of Nordic royalty. A queen.