I asked B for a blog challenge tonight, and this is the question: what does it feel like when a very important artist (Prince), someone personally important to a lot of people, dies, but you were not that familiar with their work? What does it feel like when the collective is mourning, and you are not? What does it feel like to be kicked out of the collective? What does it feel like to listen to classical music all the time and long for pop? What does it feel like to shiver in the backseat with the windows cracked at night? What does it feel like to pretend you get the reference? What does it feel like to get your first radio? What does it feel like when everybody's basic music knowledge is your deep research? What does it feel like to have missed the moment? To have tried to tune out? To start late? To know that you don't know? [ ]
Today, somebody that I love was very sick and sent me a message about it, then later apologized: I'm sorry. Sorry to worry you. Sorry to bother you. I'm sorry—
I do this all the time, myself. All this month, needing something to write about, I've turned to myself, because I am right here. And I feel horribly self-conscious about it—so sorry. I tell myself it's not becoming to write about myself. It's not interesting to write about myself. I think this blog would be so much more interesting if I could just write about something else other than myself, that by virtue of writing about literally anything other than myself, what I write will be interesting and of value. If somebody else wanted to write about me, then that would potentially be interesting and worthwhile, but if I do it myself? Do I need to keep spelling this out? It's not good.
What if instead of apologizing, we just didn't? What if, when we wanted to write about ourselves, we just did? What if, instead of waiting for others to confer value upon us, we just did it ourselves? Radical DIY self-appreciation. Valuing yourself isn't about ignoring other people, or valuing yourself higher than other people. It's just about letting you speak, which has worth / which has worth.
When I’m writing the way I want, the way I love, which is without thinking about what I’m writing, a strange thing happens: I feel simultaneously the most myself I could possibly be, and at the same time totally relieved of self.
I read this piece today, on writing by not thinking, or writing from an unlit place, or moving forward no matter what, which is exactly the kind of motivator that one needs when one undertakes a National Poetry Month blog challenge that nobody asked one to do, and that one knows no one is keeping track of but oneself. But also: this is how I write. In a sort of haze. I'm thinking back to this recent post on the physicality of poetic form, and this recent post on my early/forever love of Diana Wynne Jones fantasy novels, and this physical/unlit meditative writing state, and these things all make sense together. In so many Diana Wynne Jones books, magic is done not through spoken spells or rituals, but in subtle twists. Nudges on another plane. It is often described in a slanted way, not quite looking right at it, which is how I write. This sort of vague aspect becomes material, or at least material enough, or at least material to the person doing the nudging—who is, after all, the reader. I'm not sitting around writing poetry pretending to do magic, but aren't I?
My new daily ritual is starting my car and driving it in what feels like an endless journey to find a new parking spot, because my car battery is dead and driving will apparently help it last until Saturday, when I can get it fixed. I am not enjoying this ritual, and I'm going to resist turning it into a metaphor, even though I know exactly how it would play, and I bet you do, too.
Instead: this list of 30 poets we should all be reading is pretty great. Some of these writers I'm quite familiar with, but I'm very excited about the ones I know less about. For example, I've been meaning to read more of TC Tolbert's work since discovering it in The Volta Book of Poets (oops, I'm slow). I've also been waiting on Christopher Soto's undocupoets feature at Southern Humanities Review, which is now live. The LitHub has me convinced I should read Layli Long Soldier, and reminds me that people keep talking about Robin Coste Lewis. I'm super into the description of Solmaz Sharif's forthcoming book, and I'm super embarrassed by how long I've been meaning to get into Douglas Kearney. I just keep circling the block on that one—OH NO there goes the metaphor. I'm embarrassed. Constantly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge. But it's because there is just so much to read, and how lucky we are for that. Because I missed the AWP bookfair, I'd say I'm due for some internet book-ordering (!).
[let's pretend that yesterday was a linebreak]
One of the rituals that I perform almost daily is the ritual of the gym. I wake up every morning at 5:25am, whether going to the gym or not (because my cat has set his internal breakfast clock to 5:25am). Most mornings, I walk a few blocks over and lift heavy weights / throw weighted balls / attempt handstands / do burpees / jump onto boxes / run up and down a 100-meter 35-degree ramp. I do this because I enjoy it. I love the ritual of approaching the bar, checking my stance, ducking my head under and resting the weight across my shoulders. Feeling the long muscles of my thighs activate as I allow the bar to press my body down into a squat, then reversing upwards—straightening out like a problem has been solved.
It's very form-driven, weightlifting, and that is the part that keeps me coming back. The way it feels to do a thing correctly. A clean and jerk works because of the angle of your body as you bend down to pull the bar. How the body is oriented in space matters, and as I think back to activities of the body that I have loved, I see they have all been driven by form: weightlifting, modern dance, horseback riding, discus, writing. In each of these, there is a feeling of right-ness driven by form. Form in writing is something that I feel just as viscerally as the arc of my arm traveling forward through the discus circle / following the twist in my body as my weight shifts from my back foot to my front foot / my brain orients / to the page. So the body, too, is always in the page / just as much a plane as any other.
I find myself wanting to defend short posts like last night's, though it may not be thoughtful or careful. Though I may have written it very quickly, because I was tired and wanted to go to bed. Even then. That's what makes it so defensible--that I did it even though it would have been easier not to. Especially in a time-based project like this, it's those posts that make the grout that are maybe the most important.
When I was working on my thesis, which was a collection of individual poems, my advisor reminded me more than once that every poem in a collection can't be a knockout. This is because books have a rhythm and a shape, and you create it through impact in addition to content and form. I think about this when working on a poem, too, judging where to cut a line, where to extend, where to leave a hole, how to place one line near another line. There is a rhythm to the page, and a rhythm to this site. I guess I'm disrupting that by dumping 30 posts in 30 days. But so: what kind of rhythm am I creating? Am I establishing a pattern? Am I giving myself space with this condensed block of posts? It's hard to tell while this is still in process.
April is the weirdest month. I'm convinced that Philadelphia is constantly windy because it is a pathway between two rivers. My grandmother has forgotten my name, but remembers my brother-in-law. "Brother-in-law" is still a strange phrase to form. My hair blows in all directions. Another protein bar. In the mornings, I feed my cat twice before I feed myself. Following B around in books, I am learning and despairing. Another protein bar. Confession: at my desk I remove my shoes. There was a break in the rhythm of the procession of oxygen through my body this afternoon when I discovered that the office softball team is called the Tornados. An exclamatory email in the corner of my screen, my actual heart. A blessed protein bar. I made a joke about myself and regretted it. Timing targets. If I were the wind, I too would whip along the arterial streets.
Once, when I was eleven or twelve, my mother tricked me into auditioning for a local musical (I could probably do a whole blog series on "times my mother tricked me into X"). She described it as a small community production, and I was not interested at all because I had terrible stage fright, but when we got there and started going through the audition, it became clear that it was more like an off-Broadway production. I showed up in jeans, and they had us going through a complicated dance number. Other people wore leotards. It was horribly embarrassing. The only aspect of the thing that I had any confidence in was the voice audition, for which I sang "Moonshine Lullaby" from Annie Get Your Gun. I was so quiet that they had the pianist stop playing so that I could sing a cappella. None of us got a callback, hallelujah.
—which is to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I started giving public readings and I loved it. Is it not cool to get caught up in the rhythm of the thing that you wrote? I don't care. Reading my work makes me more confident in my work, and once I get up to read, I'd prefer not to stop. Last night my quiet voice was a little bit of a bummer, because we were in a bar and there was jazz playing in the next room and traffic outside and some kind of high-pitched whine-from-whence-who-knows, so I had to strike a balance between creating volume and reading with tonal shifts. Even with all that, it was still so much better than nervously singing soprano in front of a casting director trying not to shake his head. I have tried a lot of musical instruments, and none as good and satisfying and right as language itself.
Again, past 10, but this time because we ran over to Center City after I got home from work so that I could do a poetry reading. Now I'm sitting on the couch under a blanket, eating frozen raspberries.
I think it's okay to admit right now that I'm tired, and go to sleep. These are words. They count. And if you want more, here's the first poem I read tonight, in honor of International Pet Day (the second poem, not the first).
20 years /
I keep promising myself that I won't wait until past 10pm to write each day's blog post, but then it happens almost every day, because the days have been full lately. I spent a lot of time this weekend reading and writing/editing, thinking about blind spots in my manuscript and how to fill them in or remove them (spoiler: still working on it). I can't believe I defended that thesis just about two years ago. At the time, I thought it was done, and I do still feel good about it as a whole, but two years is a pretty good amount of perspective. I'm making small tweaks in some places, and larger cuts/replacements in a few others. Some of the poems that still resonate with me the most are the most political, the least cautious, and I feel like I need to follow that impulse further.
One of my MFA professors says often that he will know he's succeeded as a teacher if his students are still writing 20 years later, so—I'm working on it. Ten days into the month. Two years into the 20. I'm reading tomorrow night for Painted Bride Quarterly and I can't wait.