How to Rid Yourself of Poetry—Almost
Writing poetry, it seems, is one of those habits that, at least among most members of polite society, one is expected to have outgrown. The fact of one’s persistent poetry-writing makes others uncomfortable—like wearing pantaloons and a feathered hat in the supermarket. You are either a throwback, a weirdo, a Renaissance Festival enthusiast, or someone who never fully exited adolescence. “Oh, you write poetry!” some well-meaning soul says. “I write poetry too! At least I used to! In ninth grade, I had a whole notebook chock-full of poems!” To this, you must nod politely, although you will secretly be saying, No, you don’t understand! Everyone had a notebook full of poems in ninth grade. What I write now, this is Poetry For Real! This is Serious Business! You will never actually say this, of course, because, first of all, no one would believe you, and, second of all, it would only make you look weirder.
I am an emerging poet. I like this word “emerging” because it makes me think of a delicate bud struggling to get its tiny curled head out of the soil and into the sunlight. I like how, among writers, “emerging” is the lovely, encouraging euphemism for an unknown, an I’m-Nobody-Who-Are-You. I have been emerging now for a decade or so. In fairness, for part of this time, I was in medical school, and William Carlos Williams aside, I do not believe medical school or medical training helps a poet emerge any faster. It certainly does not help one better hone one’s poetic process. Poetry is always the first thing to be tossed aside, the first indulgence scrapped, the first weight unloaded from the waterlogged boat of practicality (and medical school is, if nothing else, a lesson in unloading things for the sake of practicality). Poetry must survive in spite of, not because. Sure, current poets I admire, poets like C. Dale Young and Amit Majmudar, for example, who also happen to have an M.D. after their names, make it look easy. But please don’t believe that for a second. I’m guessing they, too, manage to write poems in spite of. And I’m guessing they don’t prefer, as I do, the eight-hour night of sleep.
On the other hand, my slowness, my lack of coherent “process,” can only in part be blamed on medical school. I’ve also lived the other life—the glorious life of an MFA student. And let it be said that I did not necessarily have a better-delineated approach or a more poetically sound way of living then, either. There was always a floor that needed sweeping, an email account that needed checking, a Real Housewives of New York episode that needed watching . . . It’s a wonder, really, that I ever write a poem. It’s a wonder that anyone ever writes a poem. The writing of poetry must always somehow creep into the interstices of daily life, pushing through the cracks, straining to emerge amidst a constant stream of text messages and Facebook status updates. In that sense, poetry, too, is perpetually emerging, always struggling to get its tiny shoot out of the inhospitable ground.
So, I often wonder if there’s truly such a thing as Poetic Process. Such a sturdy, official-sounding phrase. Can it possibly exist? If indeed it does, some superstitious part of me does not entirely want to understand it, and thus I will not probe too deeply. The other part of me thinks that, if anything, all I possess is an anti-poetic process that, fortunately, poetry manages on occasion to overcome. It is enough for me simply to appreciate that poems happen at all—a moment of complete absorption between the whirring onslaught of distractions.
In the case of the poems published here in Blackbird, somewhere in between snacks of Teddy Grahams, endless cups of tea, scathing celebrity updates on Gawker, and the constant refreshing of my New York Times homepage, I can tell you what I was considering. “Epithalamion” is a nightmare-take on the traditional wedding poem, a fast-forwarding of the physical ravages of time. Time itself becomes threat and villain, the shadow-suitor, casting a pall on the celebratory milestone. (Coincidentally, although this poem was written long before, by the time it’s published, I will have recently had my own wedding, one that I feel fully confident will be free of demonic midnight visitors. So you should know, dear wedding guests, that this poem in no way reflects a general epithalamic terror, and that I very much look forward to my cool new husband. Shout-out to you, Cool New Husband.)
“The Dream Animals Long to Return” is, as the title suggests, another poem that deals in the realm of dream life. While we’re no longer in nightmarish terrain, there’s still something discomfiting in the dream landscape here. At the time, I was thinking about totems, spirit animals—that tradition of dream-seeking that leads to a strong identification/association. What if, I wondered, one got stuck there—stuck in the space of the spirit animal, detached from one’s human self? The shape of this poem is similarly stuck. It’s a sort of pseudo-sonnet, the almost-rhyme sounds relying mostly on assonance. I find this non-metrical, quasi-rhyming sonnet to be a shape that strains against its own sonnet-hood, satisfyingly ill at ease—the words themselves not quite comfortably situated in a non-form form.
And already, I’m distracted. I should check my email now. But let more poetry emerge, however it manages, by whatever process or non-process or overcoming of shoddy partial processes. Let it continue to poke its little head out of the darkness, hardy and resilient weed that it is.