We’re two weeks into Spring. I’m nine or 10 days past COVID vaccine #2. I’m grateful. Both technically mean there’s some kind of light on the horizon. But also, both seem more symbolic than anything. Even the daffodils in the side yard feel like bits of language instead of blossoms. My own fat shadow looms over.
Metaphors often feel more real to me than real things do. I’m guilty of barricading myself inside mind and imagination, as opposed to being in the world. It’s usually more hospitable than other places. Usually. We all have ghosts that chase us from those dens, and I’ve been on the run so much in recent months I have no idea where I am. What is this space between March and April? Limbo, cold and wet.
And despite a daily pace of nearly 4 million vaccines, the virus is still in charge out there.
“The headlines / loud like the hands / of men.”Kelly Grace Thomas’ poem “Arson Is a Family Name” from her collection Boat Burned
Were drinks at bars and sun-warmed shoulders just dreams? They’re distant enough that I don’t know.
I saw a new commercial for a hotel north of here. It said, “Safety is the new luxury.” It’s a terrible tagline. Even during a pandemic. But maybe safety was some kind of dream? Not maybe. For sure. For sure, it was a dream. I work every day to pull pieces of it toward me. They’re difficult to grab — like fragments of shell floating in egg whites.
I’ve been think a lot recently about the idea of safety. Specifically how powerful it is to turn to someone and say, “You make me feel safe.” To trust them fully. And at the same time how important it is to learn to how to make my own kind of safety. A deep breath. A lit candle. A good meal.
I like to think I’m getting better at it, but it’s difficult to say. Even in spring, winter’s on its way. So much depends on the angle of the light, a red wheel barrow our pacing wears circles around.
It’s been very straining to sort out this odd dream space — something like trying to navigate the whole world based only on what I can see through the peephole. Compelled to investigate sounds, the only answer I get is a blurry view of a hallway. Sometimes, a distorted figure, too. I keep the door closed, but my poems entertain all of them.
Our second spring of the pandemic has been a really fruitful time for me creatively. It may have taken me longer than most to hit my pandemic bread making and writing strides, but I’m happy to have both right now.
I’m also back to my workouts. The physical activity is probably more closely linked to the mental stamina for poetry than I’m aware. Whenever I try to figure it out what comes first, I end up with a chicken-and-egg situation, which is terribly boring. But either way, the movement — like the daffodils — announces brighter moods ahead.
The strangeness of it all has caused me to expand my idea of the kind of writer I am. I’ll never return this poet costume to the store. I’ll be buried in it. But I am getting more playful about what it means and how little the label actually matters. In the past year, I’ve taken two online micro-fiction classes with Sarah Freligh, and in addition to being proud of what I crafted for the workshop, the attempts have added some new gestures to my poetry.
I’m working now on two projects that sit somewhere between poetry and micro-fiction. One uses a pending apocalypse as a backdrop for new beginnings after a relationship goes bad. Another puts some meat on the bones of an alter ego concept I’ve been flirting with for a year or two. Both are odd, and I have no idea where they’re going. I’m just having fun with them.
I’m in a period in which I look forward to sitting down to write, and I’m so grateful for those accompanying me right now, including Jill (always Jill), Madwomen in the Attic (based in Pittsburgh), a poetry workshop with local poets and Sarah. Their guidance is so incredibly helpful.
I have stubborn lone wolf tendencies, and the pandemic magnified them. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to feel so supported.
And finally, I recently had the good fortune to attend a White Whale Bookstore reading with two bad ass poets: Jan Beatty and Kim Addonizio. It was edge-of-my-seat good. They both read killer poems, and the event concluded with a fascinating conversation between them.
They talked about the generative process. They talked about revision. Kim prefers the word “iteration” to “revision” because “it’s all just draft draft draft draft ’til you reach the poem.” Jan’s advice on the subject was to “get a reader you trust to tell you the truth. Go back in.” She discourages people from writing fast poems and says, “It takes years and years.” Both point to the very basic requirement of putting in work. Kim stressed the value of having “tolerance for not going anywhere,” and Jan echoed the need to “keep going no matter what.” Solid, inspiring, motivating.
A prior version of myself would have nerded out most over those parts of the conversation, and I truly enjoyed hearing what works for them. But what really resonated for me were the parts where they gave the middle finger to expectations placed on women writers. In addition to flat-out being in awe of their work (they’re crafting some of the best poems being written today), I totally fan girl over both of them on account of their “don’t you dare tell me what to do” vibe. They did not disappoint.
Kim talked about how every poem’s speaker is a persona and that our fidelity belongs to the poem versus just trying to tell our story, and she challenged critics of female sexuality in poetry. Jan discussed tossing aside cultural pressures that still exist for women to be nice and sweet and to leave rage, despair and damage out of our work. They both advocated for violating decorum and thanked the poets — like Sharon Olds — who came before them to show they could write whatever they wanted to write.
It was a dream to sit with them (virtually). Thanks, Madwoman Laurin, for the heads-up about the reading.
So that’s it for this edition of “a Zoom poet in a Zoom world.”
May your vaccine keep you safe.
May your bread rise as expected.
May both your poems and your lovers be freaky.