Sunday, January 23, 2011

AN "I BELIEVE" EXERCISE

Two posts in one month? I suppose I'm not surprised. Spring semester doesn't start until tomorrow, and I literally have nothing left to clean in my house. I've scrubbed the kitchen and bathrooms, washed bedding, even shredded old documents piling up in the inbox. I've had my syllabi ready for a week now, and I know what I'm wearing for the first week of classes. Escaping myself sounds kinda good right now.

The good news is, I think I'm on the uphill climb out of my shitty-poems-only phase. I'm starting to come up with some that might be worth sending out after revision. Because I'm not as frustrated now, I'm starting to play with exercises more often, if only to kill time before class. (Someone please remind me how bored I was when I am swamped in essays and writing assignments.) (But do it in a not-snarky kind of way, because I'm half joking, and nobody likes a know-it-all.)

My friend Adrienne Christian just posted a blog in which she tries out an exercise from the book Poet's Companion by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio-- a text I've used before in my introductory creative writing class. The exercise tells participants to write out six serious things they believe in, six silly things they believe in, etc. etc. I was attracted to the exercise because it didn't promise a tried and true "poem" at the end; its purpose is to kickstart multiple ideas at once. It's also one of those exercises that serves as a good opportunity for the writer to get to know herself, although, as always, there is room for fiction. :)

So here's my take on the exercise. Thanks, Adrienne!

WHAT I BELIEVE AND WHATNOT, ETCETERA

I believe in judging people based on how they respond to animals, even though I shouldn’t. I believe almost every woman falls in love with another woman at least once in her lifetime. I believe the military is untrustworthy. I believe in forgiveness, the psychological effects of color, and the power of a good orchestra.

I’m pretty sure there’s a devil, that he has helpers, that he has ongoing border disputes. I’m pretty sure love at first sight is an excuse for laziness. I’m pretty sure I’m barren, and that for every man who’s loved me, there are five others who wouldn’t know why. I’m pretty sure my father’s spirit will come home for Christmas.

I’m not sure about the old man at the grocery store who kissed me on the cheek. I’m not sure I’m as complex as I hoped I’d be. I’m not sure of writers who admire my work, nor am I sure of those who dismiss it. I’m not sure I’d survive my husband being killed in combat. I’m not sure about tangerines that have been in the refrigerator for a month and still look fresh.

I don’t think about my financial future enough. I don’t think I look good in most shades of red. I don’t think daffodils are in season long enough. I don’t think I’m entirely honest with people and I don’t think I ought to be. I don’t think I eat enough fiber. I don’t think I like foods that are high-fiber.

I don’t believe wearing nylons is worth the discomfort and maintenance. I don’t believe I’ve eaten more than three desserts I didn’t crave later. I don’t believe people are as kind as they think they are, myself included. I don’t believe in the retelling of that story where Iphigenia escapes. I don’t believe in pride, and I certainly don’t believe in rabbits that live inside of hats.


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Sunday, January 9, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR & IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY, RIGHT?

I think the goal of posting one poem/post a month is realistic for me this year, as I'm making a concerted effort to stop over-scheduling myself in writing, teaching, even reading. I am also working on not feeling bad about cutting back, which has actually become the true problem.

The stack of books beside my bed has grown to an almost comical level-- it's become more daunting and intimidating than welcoming and invigorating... sure, some nights, I really do want to read some Hesse, Heine, or Schlegel, auf deutsch (with translation dictionary tucked in beside me) aloud to the cats, followed by my best interpretation before reading the published translation. Some nights, though, I end up falling into bed with only as much mental capacity as is needed to read a comic book, or at least a few pages of one, and a heavy sense of guilt for not picking up anything German, anything designed to help me prep for that distant idea of a PhD in Literature, anything that makes me think hard enough that I have to get up and write about it before I forfeit the benefits.

I am only teaching three courses this spring at the community college, and I want to get back into volunteering, start showing up at the soup kitchen down the street on Sunday evenings. There's something in me, too, that keeps whispering about how badly I want to teach violin lessons again, how I'd love to pick up a beginning student or two but know the competition in my area is strong and I don't want to spend more time searching than planning or practicing. (Basically, if anyone YOU know in the Colorado Springs area knows a beginning student, point them in my royal direction.)

Also, I'm looking forward to the AWP conference in Washington DC this February... sort of. Some aspects of AWP throw me over the moon: the readings done by so many of my literary role models, the mountains of books I've never heard of and can't put down once I sample them at the book fair, catching up with friends from different writing programs, even getting out of the house, out of my routine for a little while.

My chapbook of war poems is growing slowly, rearranging itself, and I intend to spend more time revising it for contests and open submissions. I was actually getting ready to send it out to three different publishers when I flew off to Washington for my father's funeral, and with the holidays soon after that, it hasn't been until now that I've thought about picking it up again. Still plenty of time before the semester starts, right? I need to learn how to take part in projects without throwing myself in head over heels. Of course, I also have the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series to coordinate, which I love doing, but, as I planned the December event not too long ago, amidst final grades, house maintenance, baking, bill paying, dog training, church involvement, gift giving, holiday parties, writing requirements, travel preparation and minor physical ailments, Tom so lovingly told me over the phone from Iraq (I'm pretty sure I heard him smacking his forehead), "Dammit, every time one problem gets fixed, you set up another one right behind it!"

So, this year needs to be all about condensing the nonsense, about saying no from time to time, about prioritizing and, oh yeah, beginning that whole process of learning to live with another person again when Tom comes home in March. I need to be kinder to myself every time I pick a rejection slip out of the mailbox, every time I chastise myself for not going one more mile at the gym, for not picking up the German literature at night and opting for a magazine instead. It's all going to be okay.

(Of course, my inner critic is saying right now, "Damn, you're off to a fine start, aren't you, when you need to tell yourself 'It's going to be okay!' only nine days into the year... good luck with this one, chump.")

(And my newly hired other inner critic is putting that older inner critic in a sleeper hold, telling him to "say something nice, asshole! Do it! Now!" until the mean one says, "Okay, I guess she can post a good poem once a month, maybe...")

On that note, here's a poem for January: a first draft of another poem exploring the implications of being a poet at all.


FIVE POETS ON AN ISLAND

A plane goes down in the middle

of the ocean, out where there are

islands yet to be sold or air-conditioned,

and on the plane there are five poets,

each of them surviving (as poets will do)

dog-paddling to the nearest shore

or darting through the waves like sailfish,

graceful even in death’s shadow.

The island is white with yellow palms,

pink beach crabs floating over kelp beds,

lime-green vines woven around all of it.

One poet starts weeping and says

the thing he will miss most is

turning doorknobs, opening doors,

he will miss moving through things;

the others decide silently he will die first.

Another, the oldest, says he will miss

his cigarettes, which did not survive

the crash, and he’ll miss his wife’s garden—

not his garden, you see, his wife’s,

because he was born an ambitious man—

and his wife tended such fragile flowers,

camellias and jasmine and fuschias.

The poet wringing out his shirt

in the shade of a rock cave says

they should definitely elect a leader,

he needs structure in order to work;

the lady poet says she decided

just when the plane dipped its nose

she would make the best leader,

should they all end up marooned.

The poet whose clothes were torn away

by the ocean says something in a language

no one understands so they shrug at him,

tell him with their hands to go make

a fire for their dinner, even though

each of them is burning up, even though

the animals crouched behind them

agreed years ago not to be hunted.



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