Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Also, too.

* The 9th was my 2nd anniversary of my 2nd stint here at the Press, which means I am a 10-year IU employee. Sweet! Only 20 more years till I get my sheet cake and plaque.

* I'm teaching classes again at IU and Ivy Tech. The IT project manager just e-mailed me to say that class is a "Go!" which means there is literally 1 person signed up, and class starts Monday night.

* I've been lately fending off the fundies in my family vis a vis Obama. This sort of thing happens every election year (and really only during election years), but has been particularly awesome this year because they have no head for politics but are RIGHT THERE with the Republican talking points re: smearing Obama (i.e., ACORN; where'd he get the $$ to pay off student loans; his name rhymes with Osama <--no shit, Sherlock -- yer talkin' to a poet, you know). So all I do is start talking about policy issues (you know, the boring unimportant stuff, like the bailout and the war, etc.) and they go away.

* There is a backhoe with a jackhammer attachment that has been yammering away ALL DAMN DAY outside my window, in the hole where the trees used to be, where they're putting in a pool and BBQ to service the Douche Bag Hilton across the street. I can't wait till it's done. I am so jumping that fence for a dip after work.

* I like lambic but really, what's the big deal??

* My last announcing gig of the season is this Saturday. The teams are worn down to a nub, physically and emotionally. Should be a good time, though.

From Here There Is No Turning Back

Sometimes it takes a while for a poem to coalesce into ... something more than just an interesting arrangement of words. The meaning behind the spark. The logic beyond the frisson. Richard Hugo's Triggering Town becoming a 3-D reality out of a 2-D movie set. The reason a poem gets finished -- edited and revised and honed. Once the blush of inspiration has faded, what then? What's left?

Sometimes that spark is so intense I have trouble returning to a poem out of fear of losing intensity by bringing in intent. What I got down in the first draft so encapsulates (to/for me) what I felt at the time, I'm not even sure I want to "make something of it."

I do subscribe to Ginsberg's notion "First Thought Best Thought" ... but only in crafting a draft. Editing and revision is essential, and only a fool would believe that the Beats got it right the first time. Ginsberg, in fact, was one of Kerouac's editors, and while Jack may have pounded out On the Road in a 3-week coffee/benny-fuled binge, this was after years and notebooks filled with scribbling and note taking. And that big scroll was ruthlessly edited.

The other night I was at Rachael's Cafe for her Friday open mic, where I was the only poet in the house (or maybe the only one who would admit it?). I do some of my best nuts-n-bolts work, writing and editing, at open mics and in coffeehouses. Yeah, yeah, the atmosphere: the clogged sinuses of the espresso machine; out-of-tune guitars; flaccid PA; unintelligible vocals; underrehearsed performances. On the face of it, pretty wretched. But then there was a birthday party with cake + ice cream in the corner; and one of my least favorite people on the planet doing a pretty awesome Sonic Youth impression in one of his own songs; and instant collaborations between musicians. What can I say? I'm a hippie. I start feeling pretty safe and in my element.

All this to say, I finally made some major changes to a piece I first drafted about a decade ago. (I need to look up that very first draft because I have lost track of when I first wrote it. Some time at Unionville, probably out on the patio by the tumble-down barn.) I've only approached it a couple of times since then, once in a workshop even, but I've never been satisfied with it. It involves a pretty touchy subject ... my ex's abuse survival and how it affected her, me, and us.

Yeah, pretty late in the game, I guess, to be going there. But these things take time, some more than others, and maybe this final long lag is what was needed to shake me free of my preconceptions of what that poem needed to say and do. Another, much "easier" poem took about 6 years to ferment into something palatable, and I think the same of the "harder" piece: Yes, getting my own personal reflections down was/is important, but ultimately I write because I want to do something more than record what happened and what I thought about it. "Make something of it." Some good thing. Some thing beyond the trauma of the moment, beyond harsh, lived-with emotions, and into the universal and intimate and familiar. Nouns instead of adjectives. Show instead of tell. You know, poetic stuff.

Sometimes all the effort and desire in the world just aren't enough. (Don't I know it!) Sometimes you just have to step back, be patient, and rethink things with new eyes and ears, again and again. Eventually what you get out of that process may not be perfect, but it's better, definitely. You also tend to cut lines, words that once seemed integral but now are clearly superfluous. Connections and implications reveal themselves. Reason comes into focus. And while I don't think this particular piece is "done" by any means, it is much closer to completion than it's been in 10 years. Maybe even stage-ready. Maybe. And that is so satisfying. And liberating.

Then there's the chapbook project underway, about my cousin Jeffrey's untimely death, which I've been writing about (directly and indirectly) nearly my entire life but rarely in poetry and never successfully. Talk about needing time to process. In this case, though, there were some things I just didn't know until I was about 30 about Jeff and the family dynamic that developed in the aftermath of the accident. Stuff I either couldn't have known or wouldn't have understood even if it had been explained to me. Death being one of them.

"Death needs Time for what it kills to grow in...." --Burroughs

Which is not to say I got death all figured out now. But I've been to enough funerals in 37 years to have an inkling about how grief and sorrow in my family works. It's been an interesting ride, this chapbook. I hope it's becoming interesting poetry.

Unionville, summer 1999