White Christmas

Saturday’s Christmas snow was a special gift from Santa–in my whole life, no matter where I was on Christmas day, it had never snowed before, and it’s always something I hope for.  It was lovely, wasn’t it?  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it was the first white Christmas that the city has seen since 1882–118 years.  I think I’ll write a poem about it, though I don’t know what my approach will be.  It will have to simmer in my brain a few days, I think.

Thank heavens we didn’t have to be anywhere–we just stayed in.  I was  very glad that Mom had decided to rent a car and come anyway (after the transmission debacle), and fortunately, she got in late on Christmas Eve, so she wasn’t traveling in the weather, which would have been nerve-wracking for all concerned.

As for Christmas Day itself, I cooked my traditional Christmas lasagne, and we also had asparagus.  I also attempted, once again, to make an apple-cranberry pie.  But I am firm believer that our craptastic oven has  “attempt at baking” detection, because every time I try to bake a sweet, something wrong happens.  This time, it was a charred pie top.  Which is so fricken’ annoying!  I think getting an oven thermometer is an idea whose time is long past.

And it’s only sweet things that get fouled up.  I’ve baked bread and muffins in the oven and have had no problem.  Pies, however, it hates to cook.  Maybe what I need to do the next time is just not cook the apple pie the full 2 hours.  Or maybe I should just buy a pie next time–save myself the hassle.

But the lasagne and asparagus were good.  And of course I set a beautiful table with candles, snowman placemats, red chargers, snow-white napkins, red-handled utensils (the ones Grace sent as a wedding gift last year), and our Wedgwood Nantucket Basket wedding china.

After dinner, we opened presents and watched a silly Christmas movie on tv.  It was a really nice Christmas.

I hope yours was too.

 

 

I Live to Be a Ray of Sunshine in My 5 Readers’ Lives…

Summer is a drag.  Especially this summer.  All my friends seem to be gone.  Karen is in Oxford, England; Bob is not on campus.  There’s drama brewing in GPS; Chickenpinata is damn near defunct thanks to a mass exodus of my (admittedly paltry) staff.  La Petite Mort is late by three weeks, tomorrow.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

And, if all that’s not bad enough, I haven’t been writing anything worth a flip.  Oh, I’ve been trying–this is like the 6th time I’ve started a blog post, and have scribbles of lines here and there.  But everything’s been a half-hearted effort, when I’ve tried, and most days I’m just not feeling it.

A lot of this malaise is directly related to summer itself, when my writing naturally seems to “estivate” (not hibernate–thanks, Bob), but a lot has to do with the ongoing drama in my own life which has been out of control for months.  It is, perhaps, beginning to resolve itself, but I’m tired, tired, tired.   The thought of actually writing any poem is just …vomitous… to me these days.  It’s like it’s all too much; the world waaaaay too much with me–with my life as uncertain and enervating and heavy as it has been, I just can’t fit in the angst that struggling to find the right words brings too.  I just can’t.

I can already hear Bob muttering under his breath, and telling me to grow up (or worse), and Grace (if she read this, which she doesn’t, fortunately) telling me to get off the pity pot and write something already.  But it’s not that easy.  “Writing through the pain” is just a BS sentiment.  I know a lot of Great Writers (TM) write best when they are stressed or freaking out, but that has never worked for me.  That creative wellspring just dries up, and I’m about as useful as a piece of lint.  I hate feeling this way.  I hate what’s going on my life right now, and I hate that I can’t control  it–I just have to sit by and watch it implode.

I suppose, a creative, thoughtful person reframes negative feelings.  I could, for instance, think of myself as being like the cicada, underground and resting in nymph stage, until my 17-year instar comes upon me, and I become this creative, energetic person who begins to sing (although, I promise I don’t have any timbals on my abdomen, because that would just be weird) –or in my case, write.  But I don’t really want to wait 17 years, and I don’t really want to compare myself to an ugly, scary bug.  Or maybe I do.  At least when cicadas emerge from their burrows, they shed their skins and become brand new.

I wouldn’t mind being brand new.

I wouldn’t mind being able to find the words in poetry what I’ve just been tapdancing around in this post.

I just don’t know when that will be.

Though, actually, it will have to be soon-ish, because the August Poetry Postcard Fest is soon to gear up…

Tigerlilies & Valentines

Mentioning the Tigerlily poems in the last posts got me thinking about them, both as long, narrative poems, and as Southern poems.  I remember that Karen and Grace both liked them, as well as a few others in that class, but I haven’t read them in years.  But I dug around and found the one that Karen was especially fond of, “Tigerlily Agnew Beaumont Recalls Her Coming-Out.”  That one, “TAB Spends Another Day in Bed with Convenient Vapors,” and “TAB’s Rejected Valedictory Address,” were always my favorites.

Rereading them, I have to laugh at my own hilarity and slyness.  They are funny–and terrible–poems.  Well, dramatic monlogues, really.  Tigerlily says despicable things, impugning people’s honor and heritage, nicely calling them whores or worse, but she says them with such aplomb and with such a charming Southern-lady attitude, you can’t help enjoying how she gets away with it.  I suppose all this sounds vain and self-glorifying–I don’t mean to.  But re-reading them is like finding an old friend and picking up just where you left off–I can’t help thinking that had I gone to Catholic high school with her in the 1950’s, I would have been one of the people she would have disliked, but I would have secretly been pleased at all the mean things she said about other the other girls.

Unfortunately, these poems were never a favorite with the editors I sent them to, and I eventually gave up hoping ever to publish them.  For one thing, they are unwieldy long–2 and sometimes 3 pages.  Not at all journal-friendly, where they’d probably be 4-5 pages long, and no journal is going to give up that kind of space to one poem.  For another, dramatic monologues went out with Browning (or maybe Donald Davidson). They are simply not done.

In some ways, you might think these poems would work as short-shorts, and I’ve taken out the line breaks and sent them out as fiction, but they don’t seem to work that way either.  (Maybe she needs her own novel.  But I wouldn’t know how to write one.)  So, as much as I believed that Tigerlily needed to be shared with the world so that everyone could adore her (you could say, she’s my Valentine to the Southern Poetry world), she’s been hanging around in a folder on my computer.  Until today, that is.

I’ve heard about an anthology looking for persona poems and DM’s, so I’m going to send a few.  I don’t have a lot of hope that she will find a home there, but I thought I’d try. Wish me (and Tigerlily!) luck!

And, if any of you are remotely interested in reading one of those poems, drop me a line, and I’ll e-mail one to you.  I’d post one here on my blog, but I wouldn’t want anyone to say “tldr.”  (And for some of you old fogeys who don’t know what that stands for, it means “too long, didn’t read.”)

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

xoxox,

Moi

You Can Take the Girl Out of the South…

Taking Karen’s Southern Poetry class has rekindled in me some Southern connection in my writing that has been dormant for a while.  One of the first questions she posed was, of course, what is Southern poetry?  Is it simply poetry written by a person living in the South or a person born in the South?  Must it have a Southern perspective or advance Southern ideology-mythology-philosophy?  (It’s always sticky when you delve into essentialism.)

I’ve always thought that a Southern writer is a person who was (at least) raised in the South and writes about the South in such a way that place becomes a character in the literature, that notion of “spirit of place” that D.H. Lawrence (and later Lawrence Durrell) spoke of–you know, the way the South is a character in Flannery O’ Connor or William Faulkner (and notice, I didn’t mention poets).

And, because that was my definition of a Southern writer, I’ve never quite felt like a true Southern poet–in the sense that a goodly bit of my writing isn’t Southern at all.  I mean, La Petite Mort doesn’t have a lick of Southern-ness in it.  If someone picks it up in the future, the only way they’ll know it’s by a “Southern” writer is because the author blurb on the back mentions that I’m from Louisiana.  And even some of my poems which are about family experiences in Louisiana don’t really have any specific Louisiana flavor.

That said, when I do write as a Louisiana poet (as I think of myself more “Louisianian” than “Southern”), I still feel a bit fraudulent, as if I’m taking on a persona.  And I wonder if that has to do with the fact that while Louisiana is my home, I’ve lived lots of different places which has tempered some of my Southern aesthetic.  And it’s not that I’ve even lived in the “good part” of Louisiana–I mean, Shreveport?  I love it, but it’s pretty generic “South,” not very charismatic at all.  Certainly not a place whose spirit can infuse one’s writing.  (Not much, at any rate.)  So again, when I write “Southern,” it always feels just a little like a put-on.

But let’s consider some of the Louisiana poems I’ve written–not that there really are many of them.  First, there was the “Tigerlily” series of dramatic monologues that I wrote in the early 2000’s–they were all written from the perspective of  Tigerlily Agnew Beaumont, a spoiled Southern debutante who, frankly, still wished she was living in Antebellum Louisiana.  She was someone for whom the War of Northern Aggression was still a real issue and who was just a little too preoccupied with everyone else’s business.  I remember Grace Bauer (a fine poet and my thesis advisor at Nebraska) said they demonstrated the “Southern grotesque” well–which was high praise.

These “Tigerlily” poems are quintessentially Southern in that respect–that whole Glory of the South B.S. that has kept the South coasting on nostalgia and arrayed in its tattered laurels.  And yet, despite her flaws, Tigerlily is very likable.  And funny.  Very much like me if I were rich, spoiled, and ignorant.  In some ways, also very much thematically like the poems written by the Fugitive poets that we just read in Karen’s class–even though I hadn’t actually read much by the Fugitives before January, except the little bits you might get in an American poetry survey class.

And then there was the title poem from my Dissertation–When Jesus Came to Shreveport. While the 14 poems in this sequence are about Shreveport in the present day, and every poem features some kind of Shreveport landmark, I’m not so sure the sensibility is 100% Louisianian/ Southern.  (Although I wouldn’t know how to characterize what other sensibility they have.) It’s true they’re about a kind of “Jesus witnessing” (as Jesus is on a bus tour of the U.S. and makes a stop in Shreveport and finds the I who shows up in poem 6), and everyone knows that religion often places a huge role in Southern writing.  But are they Southern poems just because they’re set in Shreveport?  If you use my definition, I suppose they are.  But I can’t escape this bit of “alien” that seems lodged inside of me, that affects my perspective and warps it away from me feeling like a Southern writer.  (This makes me wonder if Karen’s My Paris Year poems make her feel any less a Southern poet–or if she feels any of this alien-ness/ division that I do?)

But then there are other poems that I’ve written that seem totally-duh-Southern, like “Big Buddha on McIllhenney Plantation” (Avery Island, LA) or “Melon Stand South of Many” (Many, LA),  or “Kisatchie” (Kisatchie National Forest between Leesville & Natchitoches, LA) or “Old Kook” (St. Francisville, LA) or “Canal Street Look-Out” (New Orleans).  To me, Place is indeed a character in the poems, and the writing of these poems never felt like me pretending to be from the South.  They seemed as natural to write as the non-Southern poems I’ve written.  When you read them, you’d never think anyone but a true Southern poet could have written them.  But that puts me back in essentialist hell.

Anyway, all this leads me back to the rekindled Southern connection that I mentioned earlier.  As in, I’ve started a new sequence of poems that are very Shreveport-of-the-past, very, very Southern in attitude and purpose.  And while I am still feeling a bit alien, I also feel paradoxically in tune with my own Southernness as I have not felt in a long time.  I don’t know where these poems will go, or what I’ll end up with, but I am quite excited about them.

More tomorrow.

Favors, & Anguish, & Blurbs, Oh My!

It is extremely hard for me to ask favors of people.  I’m not talking about the “Hey, Chris, can you please replace the toilet paper?” kind of favor.  I mean the kind where I ask someone to do something for me that requires a considerable investment in his or her time or energy (even when the person is my friend and probably wouldn’t say no).  Or, that has anything to do with reading my writing who isn’t the DYPS.  My hang-up is that I never want to inconvenience anyone.  It’s actually quite paralyzing sometimes.

All of this is by way of saying, a few weeks ago, when I was lamenting to Karen that I don’t personally know any awesome poets (who aren’t my good friends or former professors) to blurb my book, she suggested Marilyn Kallet and Julie Kane–both of whom are poets I admire, but neither of whom I know.

I was being my usual leery, bleah-y, doubting self, sure that they would be a) too busy, b) too annoyed to be asked by a stranger to do such a favor, and c) too unimpressed by what they read to blurb it.  But Karen, ever patient, said she didn’t think that was the case, and she reminded me that I had worked as the editorial assistant on Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:  Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox, that Julie Kane and Grace Bauer (my diss. director) had edited, so maybe Julie would be more inclined to blurb my chapbook.  And I think she suggested Marilyn because she knew that Marilyn would blurb my book as a favor to Karen, since they are friends.

So, the long and short of it is, I asked both of them, and they said yes!  So now I’m just awaiting their kind words… (I hope they will be kind…)