Here are some winter publications I never quite got around to sharing much:
Here are some winter publications I never quite got around to sharing much:
When a marriage makes a baby,
no one is surprised.
When a marriage makes a mess,
When a marriage makes a record,
it is some kind of sign.
When a marriage makes a book,
that book, that marriage–they’re mine.
40 years ago, I put together a collection of some of my own poems along with outright thefty poems cobbled from Beatles lyrics & birthday cards. It was made of typing paper, bound with construction paper and yarn. This was in order to get out of trouble in 3rd grade (having been squirrelly in math class).
I still hope, eventually, to publish a collection of poems through conventional channels, but how lovely it is to have a husband who can take a manuscript of my poems related to teaching, and make of it…a book.
UPDATE: I no longer write sonnets while driving. Nothing bad happened, but on reflection, it seemed so clear it was distracted driving.
Did you land here look for sonnets about cars? If you leave a comment, I’ll write you one…..
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Kind of like that.
Also not entirely unlike “father son and holy ghost” because I side with the Orthodox idea there, that the Trinity is meant to be un-understandable, to remind us there is always going to be something we can’t fathom about God. (I can’t remember where I read that, but it’s probably from my Holy Trinity of theology–Karen Armstrong, Kathleen Norris, or Anne Lamott. Probably Kathleen Norris.)
But my list is MOST like “gypsies, tramps, and thieves,” because one person could be a gypsy AND a tramp AND a thief, or there could be lots of people fulfilling those roles.
So, to define:
A CAR SONNET is a sonnet that was written entirely, or at least begun, while I was driving, usually on my commute to work. Unless that’s illegal, in which case of course I don’t do that. Who would do that? Not me.
A BLOEM is a poem I wrote primarily to post in my blog, upon which I usually commentate in the same blog.
A POG is a poem I post in the blog, which I think could probably stand alone (even though I go ahead and commentate anyway).
Of these, I would say the bloems have the least poetential. (Poetential, adj. Meaning: Least likely to stand the test of time, or the smell test, or the urge-to-revise test, or the put-in-a-manuscript urge.) They’re in response to current events or current concerns. Here’s a recent example of a bloem, a poem I wrote because I was so freaking excited that David Bowie had a new album & a new single.
And another bloem, about Ding Dongs.
Here’s a recent example of a pog (much of which I probably did write in the car as I drove to work, but I was writing only one line a day, so that didn’t take the whole commute). Since “Sustainable Chaos” is my life motto, this is an important poem, and like other pogs, has some level of poetential. One of my goals when I work on my full-length manuscript of poetry (either Summer 2013 or Fall 2013 or Winter 2014) is to look back through the blog and see which poems still excite me. I wonder if this one will.
Here’s another pog, called “Yes. No–wait” in which I have a conversation with competing voices. And which I do have in mind for a particular collection, a chapbook called “Each Other’s Anodyne,” all about teaching and work-life balance issues. It has a pretty particular audience in mind, and we may try to publish some to raise money for my sabbatical (speaking of work life issues).
And “On Conscientiousness” is an important topic for me, and I do love this poem.
Not surprisingly, “Truck Pulling the Moon” was written while I was driving.
And another car sonnet (not surprisingly, I’m often thinking of work when I’m commuting), called “The Moan Tax.”
I’m not entirely sure why these distinctions(and non-disctinctions, since a car sonnet could be a pog or a bloem) are important to me. Especially since I’ve realized one of my biggest weaknesses as a poet is the ability to view my work in terms of audience–who will love what? What should get submitted where? What will stand the test of time? (Or the smell test.)
All I know is what I do, and that I feel compelled to share, and thus–poetry is a part of my blog.
(I’ve meditated on this once before, sans categories, here.)
Philip Roth says he’s retired from writing:
‘“I didn’t say anything about it because I wanted to be sure it was true,’ he said. ‘I thought, “Wait a minute, don’t announce your retirement and then come out of it.” I’m not Frank Sinatra. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, just to see if it was so.’”
According to the author of the New York Times article, “Mr. Roth stopped because he feels he has said what he has to say.” Later, though, he quotes Roth as saying
“’I know I’m not going to write as well as I used to. I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.’ He went on: ‘I can’t face any more days when I write five pages and throw them away. I can’t do that anymore.’”
Which seems different to me than not having anything more to say.
In any case, although I am also not Frank Sinatra, I am not retiring.
I’m still up for all the frustrations, more up for them than ever, really. I’m trying to be very intentional about which projects I work on and what actions I’m taking to build my audience. We’ll see what the payoff is soon enough, but what’s nice about where I am right now is that if I’m not satisfied with the payoff, I’ll change what I’m doing.
Interviewing a friend last week about creativity—more on that in an upcoming post—he commented on all the work I’m doing, not just the writing, but the work of getting the writing out there in front of people (Shitty Barn, blogging, etc.) and said sort of casually that I was someone who actually had something to say (as opposed to people who seem to get in front of an audience regularly but don’t have much important to say).
Pretty huge compliment from someone I respect hugely.
And I don’t feel as though I’ve come anywhere close to saying it all. Maybe in 33 years, when I’m nearing 80 as Philip Roth is, I’ll be done. If I’m lucky enough to live that long, a whole Jesus-on-earth-lifetime, with my faculties intact, maybe then.
But not yet.
My first blog post was November 20, 2011. Although I had used Facebook’s “Notes” as a kind of blog previously, and had published the occasional op-ed in the Cap Times or Wisconsin State Journal, blogging is the first time I’ve genuinely felt as though I was writing “my letter to the world,” in any kind of format that might allow the world to actually receive the letter, let alone read it, in any kind of consistent fashion.
So here’s where we are so far:
With this post,
(And there are more one-hit wonders below Ukraine (with its blue sky/wheat field flag), including Germany, Japan, Hungary, and Tunisia. But hey! I have former students in Japan. Why aren’t they reading my blog for real? HarrrUMPH.)
These stats don’t say how many people actually read the blog, or GOT IT, or enjoyed it, but they’re interesting, nonetheless. More telling, perhaps, are my
I had no expectations going into this but still have been pleasantly surprised by the response (so I must have expected less somehow). I want to do some research to get a sense of what an appropriate goal might be for expanding my readership, but the blog has led to another writing opportunity already (more on that soon!) and more importantly, it’s given me a way to share what I’ve always done a lot of—writing.
Goals I’ve settled on for my second year of blogging:
In fact, I want my next blog to be a guest blog from one of my favorite writers, my Dad.
In this week of giving thanks, I am thankful for everyone who’s tuned in and given my little radio show a listen. I’ll be back soon spinning the discs and dancing in the privacy of my padded room. (Did I ever mention I started out in radio? It’s true. Why, one time I interviewed Big Jim Thompson when he was governor down in Illinois…..)
I’m happy for and jealous of friends and colleagues who plunge annually into National Novel Writing Month. They post their daily word counts and I pout a little to myself. I tried, two years ago, and felt swamped by the semester toward the end of the month, and gave up.
Now I have friends who are posting about DigiWriMo, and I was tempted, since I’m blogging, to sign up for this, but I resisted.
I’ve had to be brave and sing to myself, “no can do.”
See, my problem has never been finding time to write. My problem has never been lack of output. I’m prolific as all get out.
Profligate, in fact. All those hours, all those drafts, all those poems, warehouses full really. Going to waste in isolation.
What I need is NaFiOnGoProBeYoMoOnMo: National Finish One Goddam Project Before You Move On Month.
So that’s my November–continue working on “Guided Trespass,” a draft of a scholarly chapter for a book on creativity.
But I don’t want to feel utterly deprived, and I won’t. I’m still blogging, and writing poems in the car on the way to work, and here’s my big treat: for every hour I spend researching and writing on “Guided Trespass,” I get to spend an hour working on expanding one of my approximately six billion ten-minute plays into a full-length play.
Because what I need is long-term success, not a good month. Kerry Rockquemore has not only a terrifically cool name, she has terrific advice. In her 2010 piece, “30 Days Until Finals,” she has the following as items on a list–
“Prioritizing your research and writing,” “Developing a consistent daily writing habit,” “Creating support and accountability for your writing.”
It’s that third one that I most need to work on. Later in the list, we also get “understand what is holding you back,” which will maybe make December into UndWhaIsHoYoBacMo.
She finishes with “Releasing yourselves from the need to be Super Professor” and “Developing a spirit of compassion towards yourself as a writer.”
I don’t want to spend a month on either of those goals. I want to spend the rest of my career on the first, and the rest of my life on the latter.
It’s so easy for me to take an uncharitable view of the last 21 years and zoom in on the goals I haven’t met.
A sort of obsessing that can be genuinely damaging.
(That’s actually a pretty good depiction of how I felt at AWP in Chicago, last spring, and Unmetgoalville was pretty much why, although I also get awfully used to my little town and don’t necessarily function well in towns larger than 17,000 or so, at least not without some self-coaching. Pitiful, really, given that 17,000 is how big Mt. Vernon is, where I went to high school–if you’d told 17-year-old Marnie that 47-year-old Marnie would have a hard time feeling comfortable in Chicago, the teenager would’ve laughed, since she regularly drove in the Windy City whilst visiting her brother.)
And here I am, coming across the teaching job that doesn’t even seem to recognize me.
“But I’m a full professor,” I yell, chasing the poor ad hoc position into the bar where she faints.
“My life’s not like that,” I says to myself. “Really it’s not,” I assure myself on a cold, rainy, November afternoon. “I’m not Muncie Jones.”
Whereas, of course, I am in some ways. Indiana Jones’s sister Muncie wasn’t intentionally a play on Virginia Woolf’s Judith (Shakespeare’s sis), but that had to be lurking in my mind somewhere.
Which is where things take a turn for the better. Tracy portrayed Anne Hathaway with a phenomenal range of vulnerability and fierceness. (Now that I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, everything has something to do with vulnerability.)
There is fierceness in this family of women–the Jones family, the Shakespeare family, my own family.
A lot of my life, that fierceness has come out in less-than-productive ways. It may be why I liked playing with fire.
In my middle age, I am finally, finally learning to channel that fierceness into focus and grit.
One of my role models is Jenny Shank, who first caught my eye in Poets & Writers (Jan/Feb 2011), when she wrote about being a “Ham-and-Egger,” a phrase she got from Don DeLillo, which she defines in this way:
“I love that phrase, ham-and-egger. It’s how I think of myself as a writer. I’m not going to dazzle anybody with lyricism or structural ingenuity. But I put my head down and work and sometimes a story comes of it. I ham-and-egg my way through. It took me a long time to figure out that not every writer has to be brilliant.”
She also writes about sobbing during a Fellini movie because it reminded her “of my childhood dream of becoming a writer, one that I haven’t shaken for three decades, a dream that I almost gave up on a number of times, even though I still continued to write.”
And if the subject matter itself weren’t inspiring enough, she referred back to Fellini and said “Okay, so I’m not an orphaned Italian hooker in a ratty fur. But inside, aren’t we all orphaned Italian hookers in ratty furs?”
I know I am.
And I sobbed and sobbed later that spring in 2011, two different times (I don’t sob much, so I remember them). One time was taking a detour on my way to work, to go sit in the gorgeous St. Luke’s in Plain, Wisconsin and pray–this was in the midst of Wisconsin’s Arabesque Spring, when we were protesting in the snow. I felt as though the job I’d worked so hard at for 20 years was just being spit on and ground into the mud by the heel of a governor’s anti-union, anti-education Act 10.
The other sobbing happened when I got my rejection from Wisconsin Wrights. I’d submitted a revised version of Gashouse Love, a full-length play I started writing in February of 2003. I got a full typed page of comments that told me pretty thoroughly the play didn’t work. That was the bad news. But there was plenty of good news in that page–the anonymous commenter took the play very seriously, was clearly hooked by it in several ways, and very much seemed to want it to work. The sobbing came from having put in a lot of hours revising, all those hours COMING TO NAUGHT (that’s how it felt at that moment), but mostly a sense of exhaustion (see previous paragraph’s sobbing) and utter bafflement–I had almost no idea at all how to make the play better, but any little hint of how to revise carried with it a tag of THIS WILL TAKE HOURS, WEEKS, MONTHS, POSSIBLY YEARS OF WORK.
But I didn’t give up. I didn’t. I almost can’t believe it, but I didn’t.
I am sure I had the phrase “ham-and-egger” in mind.
I’d spent most of the summer of 2010 working on the poems of Speakeasy Love Hard. Gashouse Love has three generations of a family dealing with what they call “the flapper girl poems,” and I knew those poems needed to exist in full, regardless of how much showed up in the play.
The anonymous commenter for Wisconsin Wrights said the poems needed to be in the play more, and I didn’t know how to do that. I know a little more, now.
The poems from 2010, whose origin was a play begun in 2003, finally went public in the fall of 2012. It was a wonderful evening. One of the outcomes of getting to hear Sarah Day, Ashleigh LaThrop, and Nate Burger read those poems was that I felt as though a nuclear reaction had gone off in the middle of Gashouse Love.
Is the path to revision any clearer? No–but I’m excited to work on my writing plan for the rest of this semester/academic year, and will include in it “Listen to recording of Speakeasy Love Hard multiple times, with friends, taking notes and getting feedback on revising Gashouse Love.” I’m giddy with the thought of it because that play needs those poems. All of them.
Forever is how long I’ve heard you have to focus less on publication and more on enjoying revision. Could it be I’m finally there?
Not that I’m giving up on publishing. I’m not. But I am compartmentalizing and strategizing. Here again, Jenny Shank’s article was helpful: she says she invented “Johnny Business” as a way to compartmentalize the publication goals. It seems to me he lives in the same neighborhood as Michael Perry’s muse–Perry says his muse is the guy at the bank who’ll repossess his house if he doesn’t write more and get paid for it.
All of this is validated in creativity studies. In a textbook on creativity (would love to teach or take a class using this as a textbook!), Mark Runco summarizes several sources on persistence and calls it “a prerequisite for creative accomplishment,” saying that “important insights often demand a large investment of time.”
“A decade may be necessary for the person to master the knowledge necessary to understand the gaps and nuances of a field.”
[Or in my special, special case, a decade OR TWO.]
Runco quotes Arthur Cropley (one of his books charmingly has a picture of a chicken and an egg on it) who says, “In addition to possessing certain personal traits, creative individuals are characterized by their willingness to expend effort.”
Runco follows that up with a nice reiteration: “That is a good definition of persistence: The willingness to expend effort.”
Jenny Shank’s efforts are paying off–her most recent book, The Ringer, won a High Plains Literary Award. I’m so happy for her!
And Muncie Jones? Maybe she hasn’t spent as much time dodging poison darts as her hotshot brother. But she’s hanging in there. She’s been teaching four sections a year for 21 years, and sure, in one way, you could say that job has has ground her soul down to nubbins.
But you could also say it’s been really helpful ballast, and that her hot air balloon, her ship, her (whatever transportation mode requires ballast), is about to dock somewhere truly exciting.
It’s like what Jenny Shank calls “a lawn sprinkler of hope that just sprays randomly around without any direct target.” That’s not cold, gray rain on my window. That’s hope.