The Marvellous Marshes of Glynn (Well Ok, the Nice Enough Streets of Historic Downtown Macon)

Last Saturday was the Quarterly Meeting of GPS, held down in Macon at the Sidney Lanier Cottage.  I had never been to Macon before, though I had driven through once, and though I didn’t get a chance to explore the town much, the homes surrounding the Cottage were old-timey and pretty.

What was surprising to me about the Cottage, though, was how austerely appointed it was–I think was expecting a house with tons of antiques and personal possessions he’d owned in his life, but the only thing of real interest was a wedding dress that his wife Mary had worn (and I think she had an 18 inch waist!), and a copy of a letter he had written to his mother that you could read which was sitting out on a secretary.

I didn’t know much about Sidney Lanier prior to visiting–other than a lake that was named for him.  But apparently he was quite the Renaissance man–besides being a poet, he had served in the Confederacy, was something of a mathematician, worked as a lawyer, was a self-taught flautist, taught at Johns Hopkins, and spent seven years playing the flute in a symphony.

The day started with a Sidney Lanier impersonator talking about his language.  And I’m sorry, but the only kind of “impersonator” I can bear watching is someone like Will Ferrell playing George Bush.  I just find impersonators unwatchable, so it was torture sitting there and listening to the Sidney Lanier character.  I was very interested in finding out about Lanier’s life, and it was quite extraordinary (and the Cottage is on the National Historic Register both for his music and his poetry).  If it had just been a lecture about his life, I would have enjoyed it so much more.

Maybe I just didn’t think the guy was very good–not that I have any experience of Sidney Lanier in which to compare the performance, obviously.  But what really annoyed me was that except for a little quotation from some famous Cantata that Lanier wrote, there was no recitation of his poetry.  Really?  Really???  We’re there for a day of poetry, and we get next to none of it in a performance “by” Sidney Lanier?  That seems a bit counter-intuitive to me.

And later in the afternoon, after Alice Friman’s excellent (but way too soft-spoken) reading (and I was sitting in the front–so I feel really bad for those sitting towards the back), we hear more poetry, but instead of Sidney Lanier’s poems (I would have liked to hear his famous  “The Marshes of Glynn,” for instance, which several of the Members’ Sidney Lanier-inspired poems referred to in the morning), we hear work from Andrew Hudgins’ 1988 book, After the Lost War, a book long series of persona poems based on Lanier’s life.  I enjoyed hearing them, certainly, because Ron Self is a wonderful reader (as well as writer), but come on.  I think we should have heard Lanier’s actual words.  But maybe that’s just me being a curmudgeon and a purist.

It was, of course, good to see all my friends; I never get tired of that.

Other than that, not much going on with me in poetry, except I’m still working periodically on the Sibley Sisters.  I thought I might have a full book of them by now (and maybe if I had written about them with more regularity last year, I’d be further along, but then everyone who knows me knows 2010 was The Year from Hell, and writing poems was hardly a priority), but I’ll get there eventually.

Sometimes, things just take longer than you’d like.

When Poetry and Drama Collide

Saturday was the July quarterly meeting of GPS–it was actually a very good day over all.  I got to meet and talk with Tammy Foster Brewer, whom I know from Facebook and whom I’ve asked to read on the Java Monkey stage at the Decatur Book Festival,  and Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Market and Poetic Asides blog fame.  Tammy was warm and charming, just like her online persona, but I found Robert surprisingly shy, considering all the famous people he’s talked to and his very gregarious/ ubiquitous presence online, though he was also very nice.  I really enjoyed talking to them, and I liked hearing them both read.

It wasn’t as long-seeming a meeting as it usually is; maybe for  me, I was just engrossed and glad to be away from the  meh-ness that is my life.   On the other hand, I am pretty pissed off about  about the rampant jealousy being demonstrated by several people I thought were nice.  Oh, they’ve played it off as if they’re just “teasing,” but when you hear variations on the same theme from twelve people over the course of two meetings, it stops being funny and starts smacking of unkind pettiness.  And I don’t think I’m being oversensitive or paranoid–I think several people are being ugly.

First of all, let me preface this by saying, if I come across as bragging or “I’m so much better than them,” that’s not my intention at all.  I respect and like the people in GPS a lot, and I never, ever, EVER believe people have any reason to be jealous of my writing, because that’s just not how I think.  That said, when I entered the 2009 contests, OF COURSE I hoped I would win, and, as a member in good standing, I have every right to enter.  So, I sent in my poems last October, and they sent notices in early January–and I won a First prize, two Second prizes, and an Honorable Mention.  Well, I was elated, in my quiet-I-don’t-ever-say-anything kind of way.  So when they announced the winners at the January meeting, I was barraged with congratulations… and then the muttering, snotty comments started, the first of which was (and this is a direct quote):  “I don’t think anyone should be allowed to place in more than one contest.  It’s not fair.”

This was from someone who himself placed in one of the contests, and Someone Who Should Know Better.  Let me point out, that are 6 or 7 annual contests, and there are no rules that say a person can only enter one  of those contests (which would of course prevent her from placing in more than one contest if she won).   And the comments continued from lots of different people.  Here’s a sampling:

  • “You should let other people have a chance!”
  • “Wow, that’s really great that you won, but leave some prizes for the rest of us!”
  • “I got tired of hearing them announce you as a winner. (Ha ha.)”
  • “I was  sick of seeing your name!”
  • “I wish I was as …lucky… as you are!”

The editor of GPS’s journal did say some genuinely complimentary words to me (and, to be fair, there were a few others), and I was grateful… but she too commented about the quantity of poems that I’d won for (not in a mean way, though), and I mentioned to her that I was thinking of not participating at all in the 2010 contests, and she said that she’d noticed I hadn’t submitted any poems for publication to the Member Section, and she had wondered why.  Truthfully, I was afraid I might submit a poem that could wind up winning one of the Awards for Excellence, and the very last thing I wanted to do was open myself up to more back-handed compliments and complaints.

I’m still pretty seriously considering not submitting poems to the 2010 contests.  You know, maybe I really do need to give everyone else a chance.  I really wasn’t trying to make a sweep last year… but fair is fair, right?

We’ll see though.  I can always use the money (if I win).

    A Day of Poetry

    Today was the 122nd Quarterly meeting of the Georgia Poetry Society, of which I am a Executive Board Member.  I always like these meetings because there are two sessions of member poems, usually about 15-20 poets reading in each.  Everyone gets to read one poem, and while some are better than others, it makes my heart glad to see so many people writing and reading and loving poetry.  

    One thing I especially love about these meetings is they never feel cutthroat–and sometimes I feel that academic poets thrive on that.   Oh, some academic poets may claim that they are supportive and will help you in their way, but at they same time, you know one is saying, Oh, I can’t believe she got published in Such-and-Such Review.   And someone else is saying, Well, you know, she and the editor had a thing at Breadloaf.  Academic poets can be so full of bullshit.

    Now, I realize I am being somewhat disingenuous here.  I am, after all, an academic poet.  I have a Ph.D. in poetry with a focus in creative writing.  My aesthetic taste is informed by academia, and I generally tend to read poems by academics.  Granted, the reason for that might be because it seems that most journals are constipated with poetry by M.F.A. and Ph.D.-types.   Plenty of this work is solid, fine poetry, and I like it.  But plenty of it is just as drivelly as the moon-june writers–they’re just more accomplished technically and they have an alphabet after their last names.

    The writers of GPS do much different kinds of writing.  Some of it seriously not great.  But then there are writers who use rhyme and meter and form quite effectively, even if they end up with poems that seem, to my academic mind, quite old fashioned.  There is a gentleman there, probably in his late 60’s, who almost always either reads a ballad or a narrative in rhymed couplets, and they are invariably charming and hilarious.  My academic friends would probably scorn such writing.  I find it refreshing in a retro kind of way.

    This is not to say there aren’t academics there.  I know at least four other people who regularly attend who have Ph.D.s in the humanities.  Their poems tend to be more technically proficient, more deliberate in the language and poetic devices they use, than the non-academics’ writing is.  But their work isn’t joyless and mechanical as some of the poems I’ve seen in several journals lately are.  There is definitely something to be said for not overly associating with academic poets, who are often greedy about padding their C.V.s and getting their next book together so they can parade it in front of the tenure committee.

    In some ways, I’m no different.  I prize getting acceptances, and would love to have a book of poems to sell at readings.  A book would somehow “legitimize” my poetic efforts, would give me a little more credibility with the academic poets I associate with.  But therein you see the hypocrisy.  Because I do, after all, want to impress my academic friends.

    At GPS, I never feel that I must impress them.  If I do, when I read my poetry to them, that’s wonderful, and I’m glad they’ve enjoyed it.  But I don’t feel less than–because GPS isn’t competitive.  And maybe that’s what it boils down to:  academic poets are competitive, and that kind of competition leaves me cold.

    In other news, tonight I read at the Essential Theater.  They had a poetry reading before the play Ice Glen, and I was a featured reader, along with Ginger Murchison, whose chapbook, Out Here is quite excellent.  It was not well attended, but that’s ok. 

    Maybe when I publish my book, I’ll have bigger crowds to see me.  I can dream.