Thank you to Gale Thompson, interstellar poet, inestimable friend, bad-ass bassist, and overall believer in the truth-as-out-there for tagging me in the Writing Blog Tour. I’m a bit late to posting, but here are my answers to the questions on project and process.
WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
Right now, this very minute, I’m working on sitting up to type. My son is due in two weeks, and no matter what position I adopt, it feels like my ribs and intestines are being raked (albeit lovingly) by whelk shells.
I have two ongoing writing projects. The first is a full-length poetry manuscript titled Canary Be Attendant, which loosely chronicles my journey from recurrent miscarriage to successful pregnancy to motherhood. But I think a better description of the book’s structure is the universal human movement from wanting to getting to questioning (basically the trajectory of Sondheim’s Into The Woods). I’m in a fervent, hormone induced rush to finish a lot of the poems before the baby comes, which is lending them an air of immediacy that I think works. I never expected the locus of my writing to be the female body or pregnancy, but here I am. The goal is to start sending the book out in late October. Several of the poems are forthcoming this fall/winter from Gulf Coast, Carolina Quarterly, and The Fairy Tale Review.
I’m also trying to establish a career as a freelance magazine contributor. This week, I’ve given myself a deadline to complete the 5000 word essay I’m hoping to place in Brain, Child. I wanted to write about my pregnancy hypergraphia – in the past none months, I’ve written more consistently than ever before – and gender, how discovering I was carrying a son made me question my artistic autonomy, like I was a female marionette and a tiny male author was pulling the word strings. I kept thinking I was Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, that the baby was making me sing, especially after seeing our distorted half-mask/half-face ultrasound pictures.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I’m not exactly sure how my poems differ – that sounds conceited to me – but I do know what I want my poems to be. I make a conscious effort not to mention the words miscarriage or pregnancy or evenbaby in the manuscript, because I want my experience to both resonate with and beyond the female/infertile/pregnant/mother reader. I want to reside so deeply in the body that I’m almost outside of it, if that makes sense. Like a close-up photo on the back cover of Highlights magazine.
I’m most influenced by the short lyric, even though many of my poems are longer than a page. Akhmatova, Jane Kenyon, and Jack Gilbert are the poets I return to over and over. I admire how compression and expansion coexist in their work. Take Akhmatova’s “We Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye….” (translated by Kenyon):
We don’t know how to say goodbye: we wander on, shoulder to shoulder. Already the sun is going down; you’re moody, I am your shadow.
Let’s step inside a church and watch baptisms, marriages, masses for the dead. Why are we different from the rest? Outdoors again, each of us turns his head.
Or else let’s sit in the graveyard on the trampled snow, sighing to each other. That stick in your hand is tracing mansions in which we shall always be together.
I just love that movement from dyad to world back to dyad, the creepiness of camping out in the graveyard, the childlike denial of separation that accompanies the image of the forever home.
I will also sometimes sit with and learn from the same poem for a week or more (supplementing with fiction and non-fiction). Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “The Dragon” never ceases to stun me. Same goes for Carl Phillips’ “White Dog.”
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
It has been so helpful to have a rough book structure when trying to compose individual poems. I carry a little notebook with me that contains grocery lists and baby reminders and poem ideas, which results in weird/embarrassing juxtapositions like GET PREGNANCY PANTIES! and VEGETABLES ARE THE EDIBLE PARTS OF PLANTS NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN REPRODUCTION!
This afternoon, I was cooking Thai stirfry and listening to a jazz program, and the radio host mentioned how Louis Armstrong reportedly stuffed pennies in his mouth as a child street performer to keep them safe. I immediately wrote this down. I’m working on a poem called “In/Out”, which is about my fear of giving birth, and the image of hiding pennies in the body – thus keeping them out of circulation – echoes my current desire to contain my son even though this would deprive him of the outer world and value. There’s also something in this poem that connects to our cat escaping and returning. I tend to note words or phrases and then see what happens. Often, I have several poems percolating at once, and I can’t predict which will get finished first. “The Raisin and The Gun” is a poem I’ve sat on for weeks now. I’m trying to connect the rhetoric of labor mindfulness classes with gun violence in America. The idea is that “imagine the texture of a raisin, become the raisin” grows interchangeable with “imagine the texture of a gun, become the gun.”
I find that when I’m really taken up by writing poems, the essays fall to the wayside, and vice-versa. So I alternate between the two genres. With non-fiction, I try to get down about 300 words a day. I’m a very slow writer by most standards.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
The difficulty in sustaining a life led me to contemplate loss, which led to an increased determination to write and discover myself, which led to the realization that while loss isn’t a gift, it is a lens. Sometime between the second and third miscarriage I read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning (thank you, Liz!), which did more for me healing-wise than any of the popular miscarriage literature (like Coming to Term). I felt compelled to treat suffering as a springboard into the deeper reaches of my psyche while also looking at other people differently, more humanely. I think I learned greater patience and purpose. I was fortunate enough to be able to leave my customer service job of three and a half years to focus on freelance work, and while I don’t think being a travel agent kept me from staying pregnant, I do love the exquisite timing: that my taking a risk and following a path better suited to my personality coincided with a viable baby (almost to the day).
So my current work is an amalgamation of loss, love, body, travel, Disney, suffering, transcendence, doubt, fear, donuts…basically, I pull from everything. Nothing is off the table.