Monday, August 29, 2011

first day

It's the first day of school for our district. Since my child is at her dad's this week, I missed the first morning flurry of activity (and possible panic). Sent my lovely Girl a few texts, though, well before 7 a.m.

things/lessons/commands/orders/demands (to the You of mySelf):

- stop posting so much on the MFA discussion boards. no one is reading your posts. you can write them up for yourself because studying the poems is helping you, but it's not necessary for you to share all of your thoughts with everyone. pretend you are a shy underclassman again.

- it's all right that your mentor can't remember your first name. he remembers your poems and complimented you about them in his latest post and in his summer residency evaluation. in this relationship, you don't matter; your work matters. He sees the work. That's what matters.

- it's OK that you "broke protocol." you're fucking helping to pay his salary. just pretend he's not a semi-famous poet and force him to be more accessible. be assertive for the first time in your life. you're paying for the right.

- stop trying to write poems and write poems.

- don't let the drama surrounding that private situation distract you from your work.

- don't forget to prepare for the workshops you're teaching that start on Sept. 19. They should be great fun if you can get any kids to sign up .

- really, you must start going to bed earlier even if you can't sleep. really.

- let yourself write poems that may not fall into the categories that your mentor requires for the first packet. even if you weren't in this program, you would be writing poems.

- take advantage of your invisibility and use it as a powerful tool to learn.

- breathe.

- when you need a break from writing, clean the house; get rid of all the dust. It's going to be a hard autumn when it comes to allergies. you've already spent way more time wheezing than you expected. It's been a long time since asthma has been a problem.

- know that the wacky Walmart poem you've been spending so much time drafting is not a bad poem. it's simply rough.

- go pet the kitty. he'll reduce your heart rate and help you to focus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the one where I write about my process

I am a long-haired, long-winded hag. I sometimes wonder if the reason I write so much in emails or letters or posts or my journal is that when I was young, I was so shy that I rarely spoke. I had a lot of words saved up.

In poetry, compression seems to be key or one of the key elements. The people who are now reading my work really have no. idea. how long it's taken me even to compress as much as I have. They haven't been on my journey, don't know how long it's taken me to write poems that are poems rather than mini-short stories (again, I am a terrible short story writer). But it's OK. I know I'm long-winded, and I know I need to be less ... ordinary.

I can't completely change my writing process, though. It was born when I was a journalist (probably before). When I drafted an article, I included everything I learned through research and interviews, then began the process of shifting things around to make the most sense, then began cutting to fit the page (and to make sure I didn't lose the reader).

God how I love to cut. Really. I don't even mind cutting favorite lines if they don't work inside a poem.

I have to let myself write terrible drafts, though, and terrible in my case will mean long (and not pages, but stanzas. heh). Too many details, I know, too much stuff that will obscure the ...


I don't know.

Today is the first official day of the semester, and three of the four people in my little class have posted (including me - ha!). We're discussing diction and use of words in both infinite and finite ways in particular poems.

It's kind of fun.

I feel really stupid, though. I don't have the terminology. I have an intuitive sense of what works, but when people toss out words like "logopoeia" and "phanopoeia," I start to shrivel up, to dry up, to blow away. I don't know what they mean, and feel obliged to spend time looking them up and then trying to keep the definitions in my head ("phanopoeia, melopoeia, and logopoeia – the play of image, music, and meaning." Pound created these little nuggets. No wonder I don't quite understand them. I used to hide from Pound in college. Well, not literally, but his work always seemed so aggressive and active, made me feel like running away from my own inability to "get" him).

It's all right, though. I'm owning my ignorance. Just means I might have more to learn than some of the other poets, even though I am older.


This post sucks. It's not very well written, but I don't care. We'll just call it what it is: a bad public journal entry.


My daughter left for her dad's about 30 minutes ago. She was with me for a long time, for more than two weeks. I was so terrified and insecure about this grad school thing that I can't believe she stayed around so long. I wasn't very good company.

It wasn't because of me that she stayed. She's missed her daddy. She was just too busy and too tired to make the shift. She'll be at her dad's place for a while now, at least through the first two weeks of school.

I will miss her so much.

I wonder how many times I've written the above bits, "My daughter is at her dad's I miss her so much," bits. 52,086 times? More?

There is nothing wrong with accepting that your best role, your favorite role, is being her mother. Nothing at all. You can be other things around that, but you love that she is your child, that she is your child.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

pre-midnight quickie

My Girl is back from a shift in the waffle wagon at the county fair, late shift. (Band boosters sell waffles as a major fundraiser throughout the year. The fair earns us an amazing amount of money. I work on the batter crew rather than in the wagon for various personal reasons, first being that I don't WANT to work in the wagon, would rather wash dishes and mix up batter). I stood for a while on a street corner so that the my daughter and the friends I was picking up from the fair could see me when they left, but we got signals crossed and timing off, and I stood for way too long waiting. I'm glad the kids didn't drive themselves; it's a little scary down there.

Why wasn't I scared standing on the corner by myself like an old hooker? I don't know. I was wary and aware, but not scared.

I've been reading poetry almost all day (and writing a little bit, too, but nothing related to anything I learned during the MFA residency - hee).

Things I'm learning about myself and poetry:

I don't love (and barely like) W.S. Merwin's poetry. There. I stated this out loud in a public place where my mentor can read it, and the director of the program can read it and my classmates can read it. Maybe Merwin will grow on me. I recognize his mastery, but his poems do not reach me on any kind of emotional level, spiritual level, human level. I feel like I'm running my hand along a brick wall. The texture is interesting and the color of the bricks is beautiful, but when my hand leaves the wall, I've forgotten that I read the poem.

I thought I wasn't ever going to love Louise Glück, but I was wrong.
I was determined not to like Jorie Graham, but she's bewitched me.
I'm terrified to crack open the John Ashbery book, and the Charles Wright book is mocking me.
But I've been read Cummings and Li-Young Lee and Belle Waring (LOVE) and Mary Jo Bang and Peter Campion. I'm going to pull David Citino off my shelf and mourn him. I've been reading Tess Gallagher, Elizabeth Bishop, a little Lowell (Robert, not Amy, though I should read Amy, too), some Plath (only a couple, "The Eye-Mote" for a friend who is in pain after eye surgery).

I'm suddenly so tired I can't see.

My lower back hurts from last night's dish washing. I feel as if I pulled something. Bought myself some Aleve, but keep forgetting to take it. Maybe it's time?

My Girl is ready for bed, stripped off her powder sugar sticky waffle wagon clothes. She says she's going to stay up all night working on English summer reading notes, but I have a sense she's going to crash pretty quickly. She sugared waffles for four hours.

I have towels in the dryer that should soon be finished, and then I want to stay up late and listen to the cicadas while I sip a glass of wine or down a bottle of water.

I need to let myself fill in the empty spaces on that poem I started writing yesterday. Have a lot more to write and can then begin to revise/cut/structure/figure out what it's about (because it's about more than it appears to be about).

My kid smells like waffles.

"You smell like waffles," I say quietly.

"YOU SMELL LIKE WAFFLES!" she shouts then says, "sorry," in a whisper.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the one where I start to revise

Lay in bed this morning, late, cooing at the cat, thinking about the book I am reading (not poetry), about the novel I haven't worked on in a while (one of the ones I'm writing, not reading). Thought about why I feel intimidated or blocked or fearful about The Work now that I'm home from the first MFA residency.

Stopped thinking about that and began revising the most difficult poem (because of the content) in my head. It needs a bigger ending, something less "precious," as Mark called it, less to do with the relationship between mother and daughter and more to do with the daughter's light, the mother's hunger for the light that is beyond motherhood, if that makes sense.

(I wonder if my poems are about the struggle of finding my own light in motherhood. I love being my child's mother, but sometimes ... sometimes the fact that I am only a mother makes me feel like a dull, small little thing.)

The poem's literal content is about an adult friend's suicide, or is about the aftermath for people who knew her. Or, no, is just about this one woman's reaction, her daughter's reaction, no, not really even the daughter's reaction so much as how much life is in the daughter even while the mother is mourning a friend's death. Life and light despite death and dark.

Or something like that.

When I first drafted the poem, I wrote pages and pages of ... things. That's my process. Poems that ultimately should be a single 10-line stanza take me eight stanzas to get there, are written like essays or short stories (I'm a dreadful short story writer).

Better to cut. I'm better at cutting than adding material.

Endings. Terrible at endings. I can't seem to get to them or want to finish or be finished. I simply stop writing well.

Spare. Bony. Bony and spare.

I need to be careful that during this MFA I don't become someone else, don't start writing like some other woman. I am, already, a good writer with a strong voice (you just keep telling yourself that, ej). It would be a pity to lose myself in other people's views of where I should go next in a poem. I want to get better, but I don't want to get lost.

So I just won't let that happen, am too old to let that happen, old not really in the "too old" sense as in ....

I don't know what I mean exactly.

What if I never write another poem?

What if that's the poem?

Before day's end, I'll write a semi-satisfying revision that will get me closer to a final revision. I'll finish the "illuminate" stanza (what to do about attribution? What to do?), decide where to put the "teen network" stanza (on the cutting room floor possibly. It's not that lovely a stanza. I can lose it easily).

And I'll write more toward the end, something more ferocious than "precious," something with the word "devour" in it, something like "erupt," but not "erupt" since that belongs in that other poem (the one that went from eight stanzas to one, but should have, though I haven't really looked at it since that class period).

If I get stuck, I'll let it go, write a bad poem with Mark's four current favorite words (and a fifth of my own as instructed). Chrome, blood, Ziplock, god. And something else, something small, he suggested, something with that open-mouthed vowel sound in its center.


My daughter was hilarious last night. She went out with friends, but the "going out" didn't end up becoming what she expected, so she was home by 10:30, annoyed and beautiful. She didn't mind my laughing ...

Oh. I wasn't going to write about her here any more, that's right. Well, this blog will become faded and dull if I don't allow myself to write about my child.

Back to work with me. Might rewrite the poem completely (well, not really). Will type it in from a printed copy, line by line, to see if something comes while I'm inputting words.

(open mouth like a manuscript. burst of brilliant livid light)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

today I sift

I have two sifters. One is the kind where you squeeze the handle repeatedly to sift flour or powdered sugar; the other has a crank, that you turn. I like the second one better, though when I bought it, I'd forgotten I already had a sifter.

Usually, I'm too lazy to sift, just dump flour or sugar or whatever into the bowl before I begin mixing. Sometimes, though, I find I want to follow the rules, find I believe in the magic of sifting or adding the ingredients in a certain order (sometimes an order I make up).

I smell my daughter's hair spray, Suave Max Hold No. 8. She is off to see a movie with a friend soon, and I will struggle to sift through the notes I took during the two weeks of the MFA residency.

It was such an amazing experience, the residency. Everyone there (except for maybe two people) was thrilled to be there. Immersion learning. All poetry (or creative nonfiction) all day.

Now that I'm back home, I'm drowning in my own insecurity, and I worry that I'll never write another poem, that I'll fail yet another master's program.

It will be fine. I'm inputting notes, and as I input, I pull out lines of poetry I scrawled down while I was supposed to be listening. I need to shake off my sudden need to follow every bit of advice I heard during the residency. I just need to write. I can follow the advice during revision, you know?

I am a good poet, a good writer. I'm not the best, and I have a ton to learn, many ways in which I can improve.

But I feel as if I've stopped Being Open and Being Brave since I got home. Maybe it's just harder for me to be a student around being a mother than I thought it would be.

Maybe I'm still just tired. (and there has been a little drama that distracted me from work)

Today after my daughter leaves for the movie (and then goes to another friend's to play badminton with the friend and the friend's aunt), I'll pick up my house a bit, fold a little laundry, sit myself down in this chair and let myself write bad, bad poetry.

Once I get all the bad poetry out, I should start finding the good poetry. Right? I'll just dump the poems out instead of sifting them.

Oh. Ha. I made it work. I didn't think I'd be able to make the sifting image work. It's bad, though, portent of bad poems to come.

I'm kind of excited about letting myself write bad poems. Bad poems are healthy and healing. Bad poems are the beginnings of good poems.

Or so I'll keep telling myself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It is still somewhat morning

My daughter is at marching band rehearsal for another 20 minutes or so. Because she is percussion, she will have to haul her drum up to the band room from the field, store it, store the harness. I write here and remember that I need to call her band director to say yes or no to the waffle wagon shift with him. I need to call my friend in charge of uniforms to see if it's too late to order a new pair of marching shoes since the Girl just discovered during camp that hers are falling apart, uppers detaching from sole (there is probably a poem in that. Hm. There's definitely a poem in that).

I'm reading Jorie Graham and Mary Jo Bang, the girls, the girls. I have Merwin's fat book and Ashbery's less fat but more daunting book here in the living room with me. I went to bed with the girls last night. The boys...I don't know. I want to understand why they are so good, and I do! I do! But I don't feel their heat when I read them. I want to feel their heat when I read them. I think I will. I hope I will. I already do love some Merwin, though he is "dense" and for my puny brain is like eating Greek food that is too heavy on the garlic (had Greek food for my birthday, which is why it is on my brain. Love Greek food, partly because I am Greek, or half Greek, but sometimes it's too much for me the way some poetry is too much for me though I am (kind of) a poet).

It feels sacrilegious to write this. In two years, lovely Merwin will have won me over completely with lines like (random flipping through pages): I heard the sparrows shouting, "Eat, eat,"/And then the day dragged its carcass in back of the hill./Slowly the tracks darkened.

The poets will teach me what I'm doing wrong.

Or right.

Or simply will teach me another way of seeing.

During the two-week residency, I did begin to learn another way of seeing.

My brother called me yesterday to wish me a belated happy birthday. He was in an airport returning home from somewhere (he is always returning from somewhere). His daughter is coming home from a New York internship soon, but he may miss her arrival since he has to leave for Brazil then goes to Australia then to Amsterdam. I'm grateful he is not going to London.

He is so happy for me, knowing that I'm finally allowing myself to study this thing that I love so much, this Poetry. He talked about how his children are doing what they love, how he is so grateful to see them following their passions.

Oh, eh. This is stupid. There, there.

I have six minutes until the morning is over. I want to keep this a morning post.

Later, I will go to the library to see if I can find a Louise Glück collection that appeals to me. I'd rather read her essays than her poems.

Before I go to bed, I want to finish one bad draft of a short poem, find all the elements of another poem I need to finish by Aug. 24, start a poem just for me that I want to write that has nothing to do with exercises or new ways of seeing.

I just want to write.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the one where half of my books arrive

Finally, UPS showed up with four of the seven books I ordered. Two of the books are "just because I want them" (and I had gift cards): Elizabeth Bishop and Belle Waring. Tomorrow I should get those two and Charles Wright. This evening, I have Merwin, Ashberry, Bang and Graham.

Mary Jo Bang came in her own separate box. I'd been stalking her online much of today. Wasn't sure I'd like her, thought maybe I was too stupid to get her.

I may be too stupid, but oh honey! What the girl can do with a phrase or three! I am smitten and broken hearted for what she experienced, how she wrote it, my fear of what I could experience if the world chooses to ...

no. I can't say it out loud.

I am doing mundane things while I think about these books of poetry that are my textbooks for next semester. I wash my girl's bras in the sink, dip into my bedroom to fold that wad of clean laundry I crammed into the basket Saturday when I got back home from the residency. I made a run to the much-loathed Walmart while the Girl was at a film (the planet of the apes remake) for a razor and shampoo for her. She is now ... somewhere? Up at the playground with friends? She is nearby. I can feel her.

This week is hard on her. The band director works the kids hard this week after band camp. (She tells me he is begging me to work a waffle wagon shift with him since he is the only adult staff that day. I don't usually work waffle wagon (we sell waffles as a major fund raiser for the marching band), though I sometimes help mix up the batter, but I find it hard to say "no" to Mr. R.)

I napped late this afternoon, cat pressed against my leg purring so hard I felt like I was riding around in the bed of that pick up truck I remember from a visit we made to my sister who was in college at UT when I was 12 or 13, just before we left for Daddy's Germany "tour." I don't remember if I rode in the bed for a little bit. What I do remember is late that night being crammed (like the clean laundry) into the truck's front bench seat, on my sister's lap, crushed next to her boyfriend (now husband) and some other college boy. I slept on her dorm room floor during the visit, didn't I? Didn't I, Michele? Do you remember that? You were so beautiful. I remember a hilarious conversation about bust size, yours and your roommate's, not mine since I had no bust to speak of when I was 12 and 13 (still don't).

I miss the dust the truck raised on those back roads toward wherever we were going. Somewhere just outside of Austin? I don't remember the specifics. I remember feeling sleepy, feeling like a younger child than I was, feeling lucky that you let me hang out with you, that Mommy and Daddy trusted you with me.

Somewhere in these paragraphs is the first line of that 10-line poem I should have started yesterday. I'll uncover it later, late, later, deep night, dark, dark.

Monday, August 8, 2011



birthday yesterday
today is an odd, crampy day. not literally

Girl is off to marching band rehearsal. "I'm going on a scavenger hunt for my harness," she said.

I shouldn't quote her any more here. Had a conversation during dinner at the MFA residency one of the first nights that made me think hard about ever quoting my kid here. I can't remember the content of the discussion, but the other person misunderstood something I said about this blog and was really upset that I would put my child's words here like ... whatever.

The residency was glorious.

I'm so tired, still, though not as tired today as I was yesterday and not as tired yesterday as I was Sunday.

My books should begin arriving today.

I'm going to start the "10-week poem" today. Should have started it yesterday. (It's a secret process)

Also going to work on another poetry assignment that is due the first week of class.

Need to make sure I am not leading a discussion the week the Girl and I go to Fort Leonard Wood to watch our beloved K graduate from basic training. I think it will be all right. I'll just let Mark know as soon as possible that although I'll be participating, of course (since it's required), I will also be driving cross-country at odd hours.....


I think my good friend Laura Moe is taking me to lunch for a belated birthday celebration today. It will be nice, though we won't have as much time to talk as we need. I need to hear about her trip to Arizona, want to share things I learned during the residency.

Even deleting the previous words and rewriting isn't going to make this post come out right or interesting.

So I'll stop.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

don't, now, don't...

let's write a list:

1. I hear someone's music in this dorm. Not loud. Kind of pleasant. First time since I arrived July 23.

2. I was hungry after dinner. Rice, green beans, salad and bread are just not satisfying. Eating fairly healthy while I'm here (except for the 100-cal pack of Milanos I just ate), but I feel famished and full. I see a pizza in my future.

3. The readings tonight were a pleasant surprise. Wasn't going to attend ....


If none of the above makes sense, it might help to know that I'm still at the Ashland University MFA residency. Friday is our last day. It started July 23. I'm a poet, in case you didn't know, or at least I'm studying poetry. Whether I actually am a poet is something I'm still trying to figure out. Could be I'm just a schlub who writes pretty prose in line breaks.

4. I have my Eagle card! (student card) Opens lots of cool data type doors.

5. Can't seem to write while I'm here. Totally stuck. Probably simply have too much shit in my head.

6. I'm so tired I can't stop blinking or thinking, and I look like hell.

7. I love the people here. I love the director, the administrator, the faculty, the guests, the other students, the custodian who cleans our dorm, the woman who took my picture for my ID card, the woman who slides my meal card through her scanner at lunch, the student interns, the people I left at home (or at band camp), my cat, my parents..... (sound like I'm making an Oscar speech).

8. I want to go home so badly my hands are aching to toss all my clothes, books, toiletries into my suitcase. i would creep down the back stairs and sneak out through the men's lounge to the little parking area where my car sits. I want to go home. I want to go home now.

9. If I go home, I will miss tomorrow's workshop. I'm dreading tomorrow's workshop. I fear that someone will say something that will make me look into the face of my bad poems (which I brought on purpose, poems that matter to me but that need fixing) and say, "Why fuck me you're right. I'm not any kind of poet at all."

10. If I sleep in the right way (or don't), I will bypass this self-deprecating toxicity and go into the classroom being Open and Brave, Open and Brave.

11. If I don't, I will cry later, but I hope in private.

12. I might skip lunch tomorrow. I'm tired of salad and sandwiches. I think I'll have packet of cheese crackers and an apple.

13. If I haven't lost a little weight these past two weeks, I should get my thyroid checked because I'm not eating enough and am walking a lot.

14. My new "fat" pants are falling down.

15. I want to go home.

16. Please don't let me hear someone say something (that they won't have said at all) that I hear to mean, "Go back to your bad novel and stop killing poetry, already."

17. Visit from one of the other poetry students who "lives" on my dorm floor. She is worried about the mama cat (almost a kitten) who has been hanging around. Someone started feeding her, but after we leave, no one will be here for her, so we are trying to come up with a plot to save her life and her babies. An endowment of some kind. We'll take up a collection before we take her to the local shelter.

18. I want to go home. I want to drive fast in my little blue car with the windows down on this hot, hot Saturday, try not to run into an Amish buggy, pull into my crappy driveway and buckling garage, shove through back door. "Hi baby! Hi kitty!" dump junk in the middle of the living room floor.

19. I want to fall onto my living room floor, blue carpet, ugly carpet, floor, fall, tired, breathe in carpet dust, fumes, dust, dust, motes, mites, fall, rest.

20. Pizza.

21. A full pot of French roast with Truvia.

22. Poetry inside my silent house.

23. My daughter in the same town.

24. A birthday Monday (53rd).

25. sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

26. We have not had a meeting with next semester's mentor, not really, not the 30-minute meeting I'm thinking we should have had. But oh well. I'll ask if last week's lunch discussion was it. Probably so. He's a good guy and reminds me of my old boss, Harry Wilmer, just the mind, not the body.

27. Miss my kid.

28. Miss my kid.

29. Miss my kid.