Writing Prompt: Feeling Confined? Write About It!

Confinement has become a way of life for many of us without so-called “mission critical” jobs.  Those of us who can work from home are doing so, and while I initially thought working from home (on more than a one-day-a-week basis) would be great for my writing, I find that I’m spending a lot of time worrying about Coronavirus—for my family, my students, the country—and this worry is a killer on creativity.

I thought some of you might be in the same boat, so I came up a writing prompt that might help you generate some ideas and write something new.

Steps:

  1. List 10-20 objects that are “confined” in some way.  They can be temporarily confined, or confined long-term.  (Some examples I can think of right off the bat:  my cat is confined in my arms like a baby; a fish is confined in its bowl; a turtle in its shell; a letter in its envelope; our internal organs by our skin, etc.)
  2. Choose three to five you like the best and describe how the objects are confined. What is keeping them from escaping their captivity?  You can be literal here or you can lean towards the fantastic.  (In the case of my cat, what’s keeping her in my arms is the hope for many, many neck scritches and angel kisses.  Also keeping her from escaping:    Once she sits down, she’s there for the duration.)
  3. Determine the object’s “liberation quotient”—that is, how likely could it be freed from its confinement? What would it take for it to be liberated?  Is it just someone takes the letter out of the envelope, or is the process more involved?  What is an unexpected way the object could be liberated?  Does it want to be liberated?  How do you know?
  4. Find your connection. Think about your own confinement in terms of the three objects you explored. How is your experience of confinement similar or dissimilar from that of the objects?  What resonances do you find?
  5. Read over the notes you’ve made, jot down any additional thoughts, and write a three-to-five part poem, flash fiction, flash nonfiction piece (one part for each object) that uses these images in a creative way to explore our (or our character’s) relationship to confinement.

I’d love to read what you came up with, so feel free to post your piece in the comments field!

Re-centering

Right now, with the Corona Virus going on, it’s hard to think about anything besides that people are dying and the only thing we can really do is socially isolate ourselves and wash our hands to the Alphabet Song (or Happy Birthday, twice).  But while that is true, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of what makes us us—whatever it is that makes us feel humanity, we should try to continue to do it, even as we make health and safety of ourselves and others a priority.

For me, that’s writing. The last few months at work, I was putting sometimes 50-60 hours a week trying to get everything done, and unfortunately, what had to give was my writing.  I was just too tired to work on poems, after I had been in the salt mines, and I realize now that more than just what I thought I lost (some sanity and true connection to my inner world), I temporarily lost some of my humanity.  Not surprising, when you become an automaton for work.  But not writing—not connecting—contributed to my anxiety and worsened my already pretty heavy depression, and frankly, no job is worth that.

I am sorry that it’s come down to a pandemic to allow me to write again—but I also feel better for the first time in several months.  I’ve been writing, revising, and sending out poems to journals, and it feels like me again, a re-centering.  Usually, the nudge that AWP provides in the Spring also helps my productivity, but this year the Ed. decided (rightly) that we should probably forego AWP since both of us tend to be immunocompromised. (Everyone knows all you have to do is sneeze my way and I pick up a respiratory infection.)  But it was hard, not getting to chat with writers I know as well as visiting with the people tabling in the Book Fair. The energy from that is so motivating.  So, I’ve just been reading the journals that have stacked up around my house, and I’ve been combing Submittable’s Discover tab, looking for new journals to explore and possibly to submit to.  And, I’m finally connecting to the project I’ve been batting around in my head for months, and that feels good too.

In related news, I’m looking forward to my official release date for What Magick May Not Alter, which is April 17th.  So, that makes my book an Aries (and you know how Aries and Taurus don’t mix too well 😊).  But I’m excited for my book to be out in the world.  I’ve sent ARCs out to several people, with the hope that they would kindly write a review, no matter their opinion.  I know for a fact that one person has written one—she’s just waiting to share it a little closer to its birthday.  And another person is in the process of making a YouTube review and told me that he “damn near couldn’t put it down,” so that is great news. I’m still looking for some readers/ reviewers, so if anyone is interested, please let me know and let’s figure out how we can get a copy of What Magick May Not Alter in your hands!

I know this was a short post—I’ll try to do better than write one post a year!  Maybe I’ll even get back to my Wednesday posts, who knows?  Until then, be safe, sequester yourself, and wash your hands. And if you believe, pray.

Where will it take me/ what shall I do?*

long island surf

Image from the NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore.

–from Wikipedia

Now they tell me.

After I was swept out to sea on a rip current in Southampton, NY (yes, it was as scary as it sounds), the first thing anyone said to me at the writer’s conference (after “Oh My God!”) was “Write about it.”

I’m now two weeks past my fight with the ocean (where the ocean almost won), and I still don’t know what to say about the experience. Not really. I keep thinking I need to process it, but writers generally process things by writing about them.  Perhaps language is stronger than a nine-foot wave?

But that nine-foot wave that began my ordeal is all I can focus on.  I keep seeing it and remembering how instead of trying to swim through it, I turned around and tried to run from it, taking the full force of its power that knocked me over and began to drag me away from shore, filling my mouth and eyes with sand and salt and something viney, maybe kelp.

It’s that gray-green wave I keep seeing when I close my eyes, that creeps into my dreams and pulls me away from everything I know, making figures indistinct, small, if I can recognize them at all.  I am looking for new language to describe this feeling, but it’s as if the gray-green wave is pulling me towards every cliché you’ve ever heard about drowning—drowning in self-pity, drowning one’s sorrows, this drowning woman grasping at straws, etc.  Nothing seems real to me, but that gray-green wave.

And yet, the weird thing is, the fear and doom I feel now is all after-the-fact.  When I was in the moment, gasping for air and feeling helpless but trying to fight my way out of that current, fear and doom were not what I was thinking about.  I never thought, You’re going to die. Instead, I was angry.

Maybe that was adrenalin at work, my way of not losing my head—by focusing on my anger. Anger because misgivings about the waves had troubled me before I went in—I even wrote about them in my notebook while I watched the water.  Anger that I didn’t listen to my gut which said, Don’t do this, don’t go in, even between the safety flags. Anger for knowing how to swim well, and yet not being able to right myself and break free from the tumbling surf.  There is a kind clarity in anger, I suppose, and I was level-headed enough to quit struggling and to take the blessed hands that wound up hauling me to shore.

But now that wave haunts me, even four hours inland.  I didn’t go back to the beach after that day—I couldn’t.  I didn’t even want to see the water again—which is irrational and yet somehow petulant, as if the ocean betrayed me—who loves the ocean beyond most things (except cats, my mother, and Jesus)—when I’m the one who betrayed my own good sense to stay safe.

*****

I am looking at Google Maps of Coopers Beach, and from overhead the beach looks like nothing special, and the crests on the waves hardly as imposing as an eyelash.  Perhaps someday I will be able to view the experience through the transformative lens of art, and write the poems that I am meant to write about it.  For now, I think I will just end this post here—without details, without a timeline, without anything beyond the memory of that nine-foot gray-green wave.

 

*Lyric from Robert Palmer’s song “Riptide”

Solstice

Long beach postcard 1910

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Sunset tonight is technically 8:51 p.m., but of course it will still be light out closer to 10 (for a total of 14 hours and 24 minutes of sunshine).  It’s the kind of day I could imagine myself being out by the ocean for as long as possible—you know, if Atlanta was on the coast.  Which alas, it is not.

I simultaneously love and hate this day—I love it because it’s high summer and there’s something interesting about the sun being out as I’m (supposed to be) readying myself for sleep.  But I also hate it because it means the days will now get progressively shorter, creeping as they do towards the fall and a new school term.  (I’ve had this love-hate thing with the day since I was little.)

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago commemorating the summer solstice.  Initially I planned to write something New Agey and mystical—but then I defaulted to funny.  This poem has always been one of my favorites, and it always makes me laugh.

Solstice

Tonight is the shortest of the year,
not enough time to break into Mr. Next Door’s
shed and rearrange his tools,
hide the scotch he keeps on a ledge
beside the coiled snake of orange power cord,
let the air out of the tires of his ’87 Impala,
fray his collection of ropes,
steal the front wheel of his Schwinn
and replace it with a stale doughnut,
spill turpentine into his jug of marbles,
stuff his sleeping bag with twigs and old leaves,
or tangle his fishing wire into knots
not even the navy knows about.
Tomorrow, the night is two minutes longer.

 

If you like this poem, you might like the others in my collection, La Petite Mort.

Some New Things Out

fat ladies coney island

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s June, which means I’m hip deep in my annual summer doldrums, and not feeling particularly writerly—an unfortunate circumstance, because with things a little on the quieter side (not teaching summer classes, for instance), you’d think I’d be writing up a storm.

Alas, I’m too undone, wishing I was anywhere but in Atlanta (like these great ladies in this stereograph of Coney Island), and I’m so anguished about our current immigrant crisis (and general Washington, D.C. chaos) I can’t even really focus enough to write anyway.  I keep telling myself just hang on until the middle of July—which is when I’ll go away for a couple of weeks to the coast and hopefully rejuvenate my flagging spirit, but that’s still so far away.  Meanwhile, I’m melting into the pavement—and worrying about what new horror will assail us in the next hour of the news cycle.

Anyway, existential poor-me’s aside, I have a couple of poems/ nonfictions (depending on what you call them…I like to think of them as “poemeditations”) in the most recent issue (2017/2018) of Grubb Street.  (Scroll through the online journal to p. 3 and 4.)  These are more from my Venice collection, which will someday find a home, I hope.

And I’ve got five poems in the July issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Actually, it turns out these poems were supposed to come out in last November’s issue, but somehow there was a snafu and the submission disappeared (on their end) in Submittable.  It was lucky I followed up with Dead Mule, because the editor was mystified at how the poems had gone astray, but she was great and fixed it and now the poems are there for you to read.

If you like my work, feel free to leave a comment.  If you don’t, leave a comment anyway, and give me something else to brood about.

 

 

New Poem Up at Picaroon Poetry

picaroon-poetry-issue-9“Canali” is another one of my Venice poems, and I was so happy when Picaroon Poetry took it.  (You have to scroll through to page 35 to read it.) This brings my published Venice poem total up to 13 out of 22, or a 59% published rating.

You may wonder why I offer that metric—who cares?  But I share it because collections these days seem to list so many previously published poems on their respective acknowledgments pages—and manuscripts with multiply “vetted” poems seem to have a better chance of becoming books.  I know for a fact that some book publishers say that writers shouldn’t even submit a book to them for consideration unless 25% of the poems in the collection have been published already.  So my hope is, that with a 59% (or more) published rating, my chapbook will someday find a home. (I still have the rest of the poems from the chapbook out circulating, and hope that a few more will “land.”)

Of course, my full collection is 23% published, and it’s still homeless.  Which just goes to prove publishing will always be a crapshoot. *sob*

How the Moon Became a Poem

Storm Moon photo

In Tuesday’s mail came the May 2017 issue of POEM.  POEM is a journal of the Huntsville Literary Association, and has been continuously published since 1967—fifty years. They publish perfect little poems—the journal itself is not quite 5”x7”—and I had submitted a pack of poems to them just to say I tried.

So when I got the acceptance last year, I was thrilled—especially because it was one of the Moon Poems from my narrative manuscript (you know, the one I’ve submitted like 50 places).  The Moon Poems, with maybe two exceptions, are “perfect little” 15-line lyrics, that appear throughout the manuscript and (at least in my mind anyway), represent the poetic output of one of the main characters, thought the voice in this particular poem is Vidalia’s, not Tallulah’s.

I’ve been trying to remember what initiated my interest in writing the Moon Poems.  While it may be true that I wanted to demonstrate a range of my writing ability (that I can write something other than narrative), it seemed important to incorporate the moon almost as a character in the manuscript, especially as it is about witches and women who harness energy and strength from the moon in order to enact their spells.

The poems each take as their title one of the (many) colloquial/ northern Algonquin names for each month’s full moon—though the February full moon is technically the “Snow Moon”—but of course, there’s no such thing as snow storms in February in Louisiana, but there is rain, so I fudged a little, and made the poem “Storm.” (Actually, this poem could also represent July—which is the month of  the “Thunder Moon” as well as “Buck Moon” but I believe I meant it for February.  But the word “thunder” appears in the poem itself…maybe the connection to February is wrong?)  As I think about it, February actually has two poems in the manuscript, this one and “Hunger Moon.” Anyway, writing about the moon felt authentic to me, and authentic to the experience of all the women characters in the manuscript.  (Not surprising—as Marge Piercy reminds us, “The Moon Is Always Female.”)

With this publication, the total number of poems in the manuscript that have been published in journals comes to 11—when the manuscript is 83 poems, my publication rate looks feeble, a mere 13%.  But it has been difficult to publish poems from this collection because it’s narrative (the Moon Poems not withstanding), and they are interdependent, and how do you take individual poems which all contribute to a story out of their milieu and make them make sense as stand-alones?

I’d very much like to have at least 20 poems from this collection published—that seems like a reasonable goal—then I would feel like maybe the manuscript would finally have a chance.  And getting the rest of the Moon Poems published might be the way to accomplish that goal.

On the other hand, there is still the other idea I have been kicking around in my head…taking out the line breaks in nearly all of the manuscript poems (except the Moon Poems), and trying to get it published as a hybrid flash fiction/poetry work.  So far I’m not that desperate—I mean, I conceived the book as poetry, and would hate to lose the beauty of well-wrought-lines, so I’m going to hold out the hope until I get the next batch of manuscript rejections that it will get published as the verse novel it is.

But the line break removal thing is still a possibility… because it has worked for me before, transforming what I thought were poems into flash fiction and flash nonfiction—or rather, perhaps the conversion process only revealed what their true form meant them to be.  And in many cases, these erstwhile poems found homes in journals like right away.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy “Storm Moon.”  Let me know what you think.

How to Write a Perfect Bio for Your Journal Submissions*

unfold-here-craneWriting the perfect bio to accompany your submissions is essential—and it can be tricky. After all, a bio offers insight into you as a person; it alerts the editors and your readers about other places you’ve published, and reveals some of your interests—points of connection that can humanize you. You are your words on the page, certainly, but you’re also more than that.  Your bio accomplishes this work for you.

So you might wonder, “How do I summarize my background in a way that is intriguing, meaningful, and appropriate?” Maybe you think,“How do I balance astonishing people with my literary accomplishments while remaining down-to-earth and approachable?”  Good questions, glad you asked.

Because altruism is second nature to me, I have developed the following list of bio-writing tips based on my many years (off-and-on) serving on editorial boards and as editorial assistants to a variety of journals.  I guarantee that if you keep these suggestions in mind, you will craft a Bio to Amaze ™, one that will endear you to editors and readers alike.  Fortunately, the list of tips is short, so you can implement them quickly:

1. Emphasize your credibility as a writer.  Editors want to know that your work has been published in at least a hundred journals, so include the names of every last one of them in your bio, and hope that editors actually have to retype them from your cover letter, because it’s thrilling to see just how many places have published you.  And hey, have you won literary prizes?  Be sure to list all the prizes you’ve ever won, including the Blue Ribbon you got in your kindergarten class for your story about the kitten and the puppy who visited New York.  We’re really impressed by that.

2.  Make it personal.  Editors feel connected to writers who share personal details.  We love to know that you have a deep, abiding affection for the Dallas Cowboys, that you can’t make it through the day without a cup of Earl Grey, that in your off time, you like to read your poetry naked to the pigeons in your local park while doing yoga, and that, were you a tree, you’d be a live oak, reaching your knobby hundred-year-old limbs in prayer to God.  We get a deeper sense of you as a person with this information, and it makes us feel really creepy close to you.

3.  Name-drop.  Have you studied with Famous Short Story Writer at a Really Hard to Get Into Summer Writers Workshop?  Or attended a conference where the current Poet Laureate was reading and you bumped into her later on at the Overpriced Fancy Coffee Bar, getting the same Pumpkin Spice Mochaccino Latte Frappe that you ordered?  Include this trivia, by all means.  We too like to hobnob with greatness, even vicariously, and it’s a mark in your favor when you can list the celebrity writers you’ve met IRL who have influenced you.  Bonus points if you make us editors jealous in the process.

4.  Experiment with form.  Why go with the conventional format of…

[Writer Name] has work published or forthcoming from [Journal A], [Journal B], and [Journal C].  She works as a [Job Title] in [City], and is the author of [Book Title] from [Press Name, Year].  You can read more of her work at [Blog Name.]

…when you could go with a racy picture of a woman that you’ve sketched in charcoal, adding a speech balloon to list your credentials?  Or maybe an origami paper crane that you write the word “unfold here” on a wing, so the editor can open it up to see where you’ve scrawled your bio?  Or, my personal favorite, record the bio as a YouTube video, and link to it?  Not only will a video demonstrate you’re A Totally Creative Special Snowflake of the First Water, it could kick-start your whole YouTube career. You might decide to give up traditional publishing altogether and just record all your poems and stories on a channel, counting the precious thumbs-up “likes” from all your new fans.  Instant gratification.

5.  Be thorough, but to-the-point.  Honestly, I can’t emphasize this enough.  Six hundred words should suffice.

Bios are important, and they should enhance your submission, not detract from and thwart it.  Remember, editors look for any excuse to reject your work—even if they say they read bios and cover letters last, can you really be sure that’s the case?  Of course not.  A bad bio can do real harm—and can negatively influence an editor as she reads.  You might have sent an awesome story, but if your bio offends, sayonara journal publication.

Writing the perfect bio takes some time and thought.  But it’s not difficult, once you’ve mastered the simple five-part process I’ve laid before you in this post.   Give it a try, and let me know in the comments how everything works out!

 

 

*Please note, the author of this blog shall be held blameless if oblivious readers fail to recognize the snarky sarcasm contained herein.

Gun Violence, Academic Poetry, & Who Cares About White Pain?

I started writing the post about poetry below (after the horizontal line) a few days ago.  It’s still worth sharing, because it’s about writing meaningfully when all of this tragedy is happening.  But I have to have to say that now, with the death of the African American man hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park (Atlanta’s “back yard”), which the Atlanta Police Department called a “suicide,” I’m at such a loss—I don’t even know that I could write any poetry about the insanity of death and violence that are perpetrated against American citizens because they’re black and brown.  (Does anything I’d have to say even matter?)

If calling this particular death a “suicide” is not an example of institutional racism, if that’s not racist “criminal justice” and a racist “law enforcement” system at work, I don’t what is.  What African American would choose to hang himself from a tree?  What African American would choose to commit “suicide” through a method that clearly smacks of historical racism and slavery?  The answer:  no one.  The night before the murdered man was found, Klan members were seen hanging fliers in Piedmont Park.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  Thank heavens, the FBI is now investigating this death—but only because Atlanta’s African American mayor Kasim Reed referred the case to them, not because the police did—and let’s not forget that the FBI is also part of a racist criminal justice system.  If they agree with the Atlanta coroner and the APD that this man’s death was indeed “suicide,” I wouldn’t be remotely surprised. Devastated yes, but not surprised.

And let’s talk about Dallas.  Yes, it’s awful and horrifying that five Dallas officers were shot and killed at an anti-violence rally.  No, these officers didn’t “deserve” to die.  But let me tell you, I can sympathize with the shooters’ anger and frustration.  Maybe these five particular cops didn’t deserve to die.  Maybe these five particular cops were upstanding citizens who would never use their power against African Americans to harass and murder them.  But other police officers every day act on their racism and abuse and kill African Americans with impunity.

The fact is, the attack on these cops is an emblematic strike—it’s the way these suspects felt that they had to deal with constant, racist murders of other African Americans by police departments.  It’s fighting the system, when no one else will.  President Obama has said that there is no possible justification for the attack, but it’s hard to deny that “law enforcement” doesn’t profile and target and harass and murder black and brown suspects just because they can get away with it.  When our lawmakers and President can’t seem to get a hold on the police department’s institutionalized illegal acts perpetrated against African American citizens (and other minority groups, such as Latinx, who are also targets of racism), it doesn’t surprise me that African Americans turn to vigilantism for justice.

In an earlier interview about the slaying of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile the President said, “’All of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings,” he continued. “These are not isolated incidents, they are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.’”  Yeah?  Then do something about the shootings.  Our society has never been less civil.  Mr. Obama, you’re the President.  You have Executive Power.  Do something.  Demilitarize the police.  Take down the NRA.  Take guns away from people.  Please, I beg you.

If you’re like me and feeling especially helpless and sick right now about all this violence, here are some things worth reading/ doing: writer Justin C. Cohen’s Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person, former police officer Reddit Hudson’s I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and This Is the Real Truth about Race and Policing, faith-based consultant Joshua Dubois’ letter to police chiefs (in .docx form, so you can cut and paste when you download it), and psychologist Karyn Hall’s suggestions for self-soothing (because we need to take care of ourselves in the midst of all this tragedy).

Anyway, with these latest murders in mind, like anything I say is worth a damn, here is the original post…


I am struggling lately with poetry.  Call it a genuine crisis of faith—or aesthetics.

I am trying to reconcile what I think art should do—which is comment on our time, take a stand, reflect reality and emotions and rage—with what my art is doing—or rather not doing.  That is to say, in the light of the constant stream of mass shootings, and shooting violence in domestic relationships, and officer involved shootings (so many of which our white justice system just gives a pass to), how can I write poetry that is meaningful and worthwhile?  How can I make art that responds to the insanity of murder and the American adoration of and addiction to gun-enhanced power that we see every day reported in the media?  How do I respond to that?

When I consider the writing I have done lately, it seems vacuous and crass that I have not responded to these constant shootings.  It seems so much the purview of academic poets (a group I belong to) wrapped in their laurels of white privilege to ignore what is happening around us.  Do we white academic poets need to be shot or to see someone we love shot before we are galvanized to action?  Do we have to live through the horror (if we’re lucky) of gun violence before we use our art for good?  What is art for if not to rally people around a cause, if not to comment on and critique the way we are living our lives?  What is art, if it doesn’t challenge us to change?

I think academic poets are averse to risk and to reaching out in their poetry, and they take a dim view of political poetry as a genre.  Maybe it’s something to do with the perceived sanctity and safety of the ivory tower that we are privileged to write little lyrics about our families or the natural world or trips we’ve taken oversees—but where’s the risk in that?  Where is the connection to the greater world? I see plenty of poet friends on Twitter tweeting their outrage at every example of injustice and murder perpetrated by cops against minorities—but what are they writing?  What are they doing to stop this?  How are they using their art to say no more?  How am I?

Maybe it’s a class issue—maybe academic poets think political poetry is the work of the laboring classes, or the work of oppressed groups, or maybe the work of spoken word and hip hop artists.  Maybe those of us in the ivory tower are just closing our eyes and pretending we don’t see what is happening around us—because we don’t have to.  Because we believe in the myth of NIMBY.  But even in the ivory tower, we can still be taken out by a sniper or a bomb.  So why are we silent?  Why am I?

Which brings me back to my struggle with poetry.  I can’t think I was ever taught in any of my writing classes about how to write political poetry—I think, maybe, while it was never stated overtly, it was certainly implied, that art was “above the fray.” I barely even read any political poetry—at best, the political poetry I read was women’s poetry, and just reading women’s writing, by virtue of writing the very fact of their lives was theoretically a political act (i.e. the personal is political), maybe I thought that was good enough.

And maybe because it’s white privilege that tells us art should be beautiful, and art is “universal,” that I didn’t ever think I needed to use poetry to discuss politics.  As if you could ever divorce art from politics.  The very choice in deciding what to write about reveals our politics, aesthetics, and values. 

I find that my own writing—which honestly, I generally think is pretty good—strikes me now as deliberately obtuse, privileged, and empty.  As I said in my last blog post, people are dying—we do nothing.  Poets have power—so why haven’t I written about this constant barrage of death?  Why haven’t I used my anguish and anger to write poetry that matters, that speaks to these atrocities?  Poetry that pleads for change?

Part of it is, I don’t know how to write it.  I don’t know how to express my fear and distrust with our “justice” system, I don’t know how to say “these deaths are wrong” and “guns are killing us” and “fuck tha police” (N.W.A. said that first, to be fair) and that “racism is evil”…in an artful, meaningful way.  I don’t know how to write about those things so that it won’t come across as facile or false or like I’m an ignorant white liberal who is trying to write Meaningful Poetry So We Can All Learn a Lesson at best—or at worst, write poetry that somehow appropriates the experiences of oppressed groups, a type of colonizing act, making their pain all about me.  I don’t know how to express these things.

Part of me feels that maybe I don’t have a right to write about these things.  Who am I, but a privileged woman with a Ph.D., an academic poet whose life in every way is impacted by and benefits from my whiteness?  If I get pulled over, I don’t fear for my life.  So how can any poetry I write even speak to the horror that is everyday experience for African Americans who get stopped because they’re missing a license plate?  They know one “wrong” word, one quick movement, and the cop who is stopping them will escalate this moment to death. I can never know this.

And maybe I really don’t have the right to write about these things like racism—because I don’t suffer its effects, though I sure as hell benefit from white privilege.  Still, every day there’s another murder (euphemistically called an “officer involved shooting”).  Every day someone dies; Alton Sterling died on Tuesday, Philando Castile died on Wednesday.  And every day I feel sick.  I feel like I have to express my pain about these deaths.  I want to use my art to do so.

And I know these deaths are not about me.  And nobody wants to hear about a white person’s pain—because it can never compare to the pain of racism and its effects on society.  It can never compare to the quotidian fear for one’s life that African Americans suffer.  And yet here I am, poor me-ing about my feelings of artistic impotence, anyway…when people are dying because they are people of color.  Dying every day because of the color of their skin.  I can’t wrap my head around that.  I can never wrap my head around that.

Maybe it’s white privilege again that makes me think I should use my art “for good”—maybe it’s the white savior complex rearing its ugly head that lets me believe that if I wrote a political poem about gun violence—gun violence on a large scale, and this incessant disgusting racism that is killing African Americans in “routine traffic stops”—that anyone would care.

Not writing about it seems wrong.  But I come back to those voices of recrimination in my head that say, Who am I to think any poem I’d write about this subject matter is worthwhile or right?  Who am I to speak about this?  What right does any white person have to express her pain about these murders?

My pain can never compare.  It’s just so much white noise.

In Which the Author of this Post Expresses Her Deep and Abiding Admiration for Alexander Hamilton and Broadway Musicals about Our First Secretary of the Treasury

A little more than a month has passed since my last blog.  I’d like to say I’ve been using the time in a worthwhile way—writing new work, perhaps, or reading a bunch of new books of poetry to shore me up in preparation for teaching creative writing this summer.  But the fact is, I’ve gone crazy for Hamilton (the Broadway musical that was just nominated for a record-breaking 162016-05-11 17.34.28 Tony Awards—for those of you living under a rock).

It’s all I think about.  I stay up late watching YouTube videos about anything about the musical—I recommend Leslie Odom, Jr.’s video where he responds to comments and questions on Facebook, and Lin-Manuel Miranda on Jimmy Fallon for the Wheel of Freestyle bit, or any of the #HamforHam videos— just coast from video to video to your heart’s content.  (While I’m at it, I also suggest watching the video of “My Shot,” which was performed at the White House.)  I listen to the soundtrack constantly—I haven’t listened to NPR in my car since the beginning of April—I don’t have time, because I want to get in as many songs as I can on the trip back and forth to work (also, I don’t care to hear anything about stupid Donald Trump [or warmongering imperialist oligarch Hilary Clinton, while I’m at it], and I assume anything election-related will mention those worthies).  If I wake up in the middle of the night, some lines from somewhere in the musical are floating in my head.  Or, if someone says something to me, I can think of a perfect line from Hamilton in response—and I desperately want to sing it to them.  (Really, try me… post a comment below, and I’ll respond with the perfect line.) I also can’t help myself from thinking about writing Hamilton fanfic.  Not that I would… but sometimes I imagine writing it.  Like, I totally want to write some Hamilton/Laurens slash—I don’t know why.  I comb websites (especially tumblr) for anything Ham-related.  It’s insane.  Or, if I read anything in the “Hamiltome” (The Hamilton Revolution), I can’t just read the lyrics on the lyrics pages, I hear the songs sung in my brain… breaking only to read the notes on individual lines.

It’s also all I dream about.  Last night, for instance, I dreamed two separate Hamilton dreams.  In the first one, I dreamed that Lin-Manuel Miranda invited me to audition, and I was supposed to sing/rap any song from the second act.  While it’s true that I don’t know the words to the second act as well as I do to the first one, I know enough that I could totally have aced the audition—I would have chosen “Cabinet Battle #1” for the audition, by the way—which I know 100%.  Except when they gave me the list of songs from the second act to choose from, they weren’t anything I recognized.  (A variation on a “failing the test” dream, I guess?)  In the second dream, I was drawing fan art of Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson. (I want to include an image, but they’re all copyrighted—just Google “Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson”… if you see a man in a purple velvet/velour suit, you’ll know who I’m talking about).  I have never drawn a fan art of anything in my entire life.  (Mainly because I don’t draw.)  But it kind of makes me want to sit down and try.

Additionally, 2016-05-11 17.30.31-1I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography; I’m on p. 580 (out of 738 pages + notes), and I go around reporting on what Hamilton has done “the night before”—i.e. what I read the night before in the biography, I report on.  “Did you know… blah blah Hamilton blah blah?”  (Did you know that Hamilton got Yellow Fever?  Did you know Hamilton was made a General under Washington, who came back from retirement at 66, when it seemed that the U.S. was going to go to war with France?  Did you know that everyone in President John Adams’ cabinet supported Hamilton, and John Adams had no idea?  Etc., etc.)  If I haven’t reported a “Hamilfact” to you, it’s probably because you and I haven’t crossed paths any time recently.  And, if you know me at all, you know two things:  1) I don’t read biographies; and 2) I don’t read anything longer than like 300 pages (Harry Potter notwithstanding).  But I’m making good progress in Chernow.  And one of these days soon, I plan to catch up with the Hamilcast, which is a podcast about the musical and Chernow’s biography.  It’s on my list.

So, maybe you wonder why I’ve become obsessed with Hamilton—besides that it’s just a great musical and there are so many great lines in it (and it’s great hiphop with so many great rhymes in it) (all written by Lin-Manuel Miranda)—it’s because Hamilton was a copious, obsessed writer.  These lines from “Non-Stop” describing Hamilton say it all:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time/ Write day and night like you’re running out of time/ Every day you fight like you’re running out of time…”  One of the things that Chernow goes on and on about is how Hamilton just couldn’t stop writing—when he could write one essay, he’d write ten—or more.  The Federalist Papers (essays that defended the Constitution to the public) were supposed to be 25 essays, with him having written like eight.  But indeed, there were 85 essays, and Hamilton wrote 59 of them in six months.  (I can barely write 3 poems in six months, it seems.  Ok, I’m being disingenuous—I’m a little more dedicated than that, but you take my point.)

Even his essay, the Reynolds Pamphlet (a.k.a. Observations on Certain Documents Contained in No. V & VI of the “History of the United States for 1796,” in Which the Charge of Speculation Against Alexander Hamilton, Late Secretary of the Treasury, Is Fully Refuted.  Written by Himself.) where he falls on his sword to assure the public that he only slept around, he did NOT engage in illegal speculation with the banks (he was overly scrupulous with American money and wanted people to know he never abused his position as Secretary of the Treasury), was 95 pages long.  95 pages!  95 pages to basically explain that he’s very sorry that he was a sex addict who stepped out on his wife (while also responding to other things in the pamphlet History…for 1796 by James Thompson Callender, like American Jacobism—but still) (see Chernow p. 533).  It blows my mind.  He wrote poems, letters, reports, dispatches, plans, essays on everything—as well as created things like our banking system and the Treasury, and coming up with the idea for West Point and the Coast Guard and starting the New York Post…and, and, and…  Hamilton was a genius, and the musical celebrates that he was writer and that he wrote just as soon as breathe, and that is something I admire.  I wish I could be that prolific—or maybe even a quarter as prolific.  Or a tenth. (A hundredth?)

(I think Chernow mentioned that there are 27 volumes of collected works by Hamilton—and of course there’s probably more than that that didn’t survive.  The collection, The Complete Works of Alexander Hamilton: The Federalist, The Continentalist, A Full Vindication, The Adams Controversy, The Jefferson Controversy, Military … (26 Books With Active Table of Contents) is available for Kindle for $1.99.  I might have to get that.  Except I hate reading books of any quality on the Kindle—because I can’t take notes.) (Seems to me I remember that excerpts from The Federalist [a.k.a. The Federalist Papers] appeared in the Norton Anthology of American Literature—back then, when the Norton was practically surgically attached to my hand, the thought of reading any kind of writing from the Revolutionary era sounded about as dry as dirt.  Now I’m like, gimme gimme.  I’ll read it all.)

I liken my love for all things Hamilton to a kind of crush.  I sort of fall in love with things for a while—like anime, or manga, or zentangles, or TV shows like Murdoch Mysteries and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (remember when I burned through all of Kelly Greenwood’s Phryne books like I was in a race?), and then the interest doesn’t wane exactly, it just becomes more manageable.  I don’t see my Hamilton crush cooling any time soon, though.  I mean, I’m even considering watching the Tony Awards show… and I never watch Awards shows because they are full of bluster and balderdash…and commercials… but I will probably totally watch them on June 12th.  Anything for a glimpse of Hamilton… Since I won’t be going to New York any time soon.  (And even if I could, who can afford $756 for a shitty nosebleed seat?  Plus airfare and hotel and food for a weekend?  New York ain’t cheap.)

Anyway, join me in Hamilmania… Do not “throw away your shot” to download the soundtrack to the musical, watch some videos, and fall in love with Alexander Hamilton. (And then let’s hang out and we can wax effusive about Hamilton together!)