Way back when I was studying for my comprehensive exam in contemporary women’s poetry for my PhD, I remember sitting on my bed with all my books spread around me—opened hither and thither, bookmarks and stickies shoved in higgedly-piggedly everywhere. My love of note cards began here—so much easier for memorizing passages from poems. I could riffle through them constantly.
At any given moment, I was also reading five or six or sixteen books, and I went through so many mechanical pencils underlining important poetic passages, Bic should have given me stock in the company. The method was decidedly chaotic, but somehow I felt like a true scholar. This is what I imagined that the life of the mind would lead to: being holed up with dozens of books around me, taking notes, and writing.
Real life, not so much. But this week at Rockvale has reminded me a little bit of that crazy time. I have been reading a wide variety of books (from Greek myth to poetry by Katherine Smith and Sandy Coomer [the doyenne and proprietor of Rockvale] to YA fiction by Melissa Marr and Ibi Zoboi to books about immigration) and journaling and taking notes and hand-writing poem-ish things.
I’ve tried sitting down at the computer directly and writing, but that hasn’t worked so well for me. Instead, I have had some good luck writing messily, not even my best handwriting, just scribbles and scratches and erasures. And while the poem-ish things aren’t yet poems, I have found that when I go to type them up, they’re not nearly as bad as I fear they might have been. For sure, they are drafty as an old robe, but there are many potential kernels, waiting to be popped.
I did not come here thinking that I would be transformed (for all the experience is proving transformative)—I am wise enough to know that you take your emotional shit with you everywhere you go—but I have felt open in a way that I’ve not felt in a long time. How can I explain? It’s like I’m only responsible to myself.
It’s downright amazing to be cut off from the penny-ante minutia of day-to-day work. I am still working—probably 12-15 hours a day since I’ve been here—but because it’s “professional development” time, because I am working solely on my creative growth, I feel remarkable. Awake. Like I’m not sleeping through my life, filling it up with things that don’t matter. And I don’t feel guilty about it either. I can’t check my email? Oh well. They’ll have to figure it all out without me. And that’s totally ok. (It’s fan-fucking-tastic.)
Of course, the goal is to produce a number of poems that can go in my new manuscript—but maybe part of the problem of the last year is that by not having a break (either a vacation or teaching in Scotland as was planned two summers in a row), I’ve kind of forgotten what my own company is like. I’ve forgotten how to be just “JC the Poet” instead of “JC the Administrator/ Managing Editor/ Teacher/ Cat Lady/ Wife/ who writes poems in her puny spare time” person.
How many poems I’ll have by this time next week, I’m not sure. But midway through, I’m feeling motivated, expansive, and ready to see what the next seven days will bring. If Rockvale has taught me anything, it’s that a different setting doesn’t change everything, doesn’t make you any more of a scholar than you are already, but it changes things enough to give you some useful perspective.