Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Strangest Week Ever

I think I might be living in the strangest week ever.

Not that it's a bad thing. It's just I've had and will have a lot of firsts this week. I had my first teaching-related argument, I drove over a giant snow mound by accident, and I heard the inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander speak. All that just by Monday. Tuesday got even stranger when I read my poetry on Prosody and was interviewed by Jan Beatty. I also witness a giant five piece mural get completed by my 7th grade students. Today I was at work for twelve hours. After school we had an auction for the mural, along with sales of glass jewelry, Haitian dance moves and hands on art. We made over $1200 for Haiti relief efforts. I've just gotten home and plopped down into my chair and I'm pretty sure I've never been quite this tired.

Still left to go is a presentation on Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca. Not that strange, except I've somehow managed to fall in love with a dead, gay, Spanish writer. It will be a beautiful love affair. This play is an experience to read and I hope we have a fun discussion in class tomorrow.

This weekend has the most sad bit of strange; my family will be interning my grandfather's ashes in the afternoon. I can't believe it's been almost three months since he died. I haven't seen my family in a while because I've just been so busy. So while it's sad, I'm glad we're getting together and I'm glad Grandpa is the reason we're getting together. He would like that.

I'm not sure how I feel about my strange week so far. I mostly enjoy pointing out the strangeness of it. I just don't think many people get make change with art, be on the radio, experience a death ritual and hear a speech from a famous all in one week. I think that next week I'll be glad I just have the Weave Issue 03 reading.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What are your boundaries?

This week I was told you can't write poetry about valentine's day. Also, the Titantic.

I don't like boundaries in poetry.

In theory, the whole universe is up for grabs, all of the galaxies and supernovas and black holes.
But in reality there are boundaries. In each culture there are topics that just can't be taken seriously in a poem. Some stories or words or events carry too much baggage.

I know this as an editor. I see a lot of poems about certain universal topics like 9/11 or divorce poems. Another common topics was the death of a grandparent. It seems that these universal experiences sometimes cross over into an area of sentimentality and the poem no longer works. I often got annoyed by people who wrote dead grandparent poems.

Until my grandfather died and I wrote one too.

I get irritated at the thought that people must write about pain or conflict. I think this is false. It's tension. I like to think that as poets, we can locate tension even when you think there isn't any. When I think about my grandfather, I think about having a person who loved me unconditionally. There really was nothing dark about our relationship. No pain, except in losing him to illness and old age. He had other sides to him I'm sure, but I didn't know those sides. I was always young to him and I knew that and it was okay. It wasn't just him. I was a part of it too, not knowing how to be an adult with him. But does that mean I have to invent some kind of pain or dark side of him in order for a poem to be successful? That I have to pretend I knew he had secrets? That wouldn't be the man I knew.

Maybe that is the tension. The tension of that relationship never changing since I was a little girl. And maybe that is the poet's real job. To find the tension and balance that with the sweetness, the love. Because we have to be able to write about love. Especially unconditional love. If that can't be touched in poems, I don't know why I try to write anything at all.

What topics do you feel are off-limits to you? Are there words or ideas or events or people you can just never let into your poetry?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Censorship and the Poet's Persona

I've been writing some more personal poetry lately and I like the voice I'm developing. I also like that I have many voices, some surreal, some bossy, some snobby or distant, but sometimes it's good to settle into a poem that feels like a conversation with a close friend. There is something that is beyond cathartic or confessional that happens when you can describe a private-personal experience accurately and make it a public-shared experience.

This kind of writing also makes people vulnerable. Myself, as the poet, included. But also the community of people stuffed into each personal poem, that aren't poets, that wouldn't tell that part of their own story in the way I have or will. What does a poet consider when writing about their friends and family? I have had this discussion with other writers and none have really been able to give me a solid answer. Everyone tiptoes around things. Some people say that they waited for grandma to die before putting certain things out there or that they don't publish certain poems, just read them at small venues or not at all.

There is also the issue of one's professional life and how that might be affected by making some parts of their life, past or current, public. Some writers are teachers, like myself. In particular, I teach young children. My writing is often not appropriate for a young person, so making work public could affect me professionally. I had to ask that a video of me reading be taken down, not because I did anything bad, but that it showed me drinking and should a student of mine find that they would not have the life experience to put it into context. Some people worry about these issues of seeming professional, but it's less worrisome in higher education.

What do you think about when you put your personal art out there? Do you feel like the personal aspects can be unspoken? That it's not anyone's business? Or do you fly your private life's flag proudly? Or keep them all to yourself?