Rest and Renewal, Receiving Good News, and Misguided Girls in Coffee Shops

"Be happy; you're writing from the privilege
of all your wits about you in your old age,
under the thorn acacias by the noon sea,
the light on all the places you have painted
and hope to paint with the strenuous accuracy
of joy, the village houses, the streets untainted
by any history, by any thought or shadow
on the blank canvas except from the sky;
be grateful that each craft stays hard to do.
In what will be your last book make each place
as if it had just been made, already old,
but new again from naming it."
-- from "The Prodigal" by Derek Walcott

Sure, this little ars poetica at the end of "The Prodigal" is the poet speaking to himself at the end of an illustrious career, and there are few parallels I can draw between the speaker of these lines and myself, but the passage serves as this lovely reminder of the joy found in the act of creation. And that in the end, we fight death by giving birth, over and over again, with new poems and new paintings, or whatever it is we like to build, whether it's with words or oils or wood or steel.

Beach days are the best days.
My month of hiding out is over, and it's been peaceful and restorative like I wanted it to be, and feels a little (oddly, wonderfully) like rebirth -- I feel a little fresher, which is funny considering I'm tipping into year 41 at the end of next week. I'm not entirely finished with prep for my fall classes, but I'm not worried and that's kind of new -- instead I'm just happy to be more or less aware of what needs to be done and I feel optimistic about my ability to get it done, eventually. This is partly because I actually said "no" to commitments that were sapping my strength and my enthusiasm for my job in May, so I'm beginning this semester with a lighter load and, consequently, a more buoyant psyche. Also, reading and listening to all of that productivity porn last year has paid off and, for all of its dryness and repetitiveness and ridiculous terminology, it's helped me figure out how to be more methodical and practical about my teaching life -- so that my personal life and creative life can be a wee bit more spontaneous and relaxed.

My full-length MS received a few more finalist and semi-finalist placings in contests in August, which was encouraging, but still no sign of the book happening. I'm in a weird place with the whole publishing thing -- I just don't know how much more energy (and time, and money) I should expend on the manuscript's behalf. It's difficult when I get positive feedback from judges about the book, but ultimately it's not being published. It makes me think that maybe it has a chance, but then it's had a solid five years of chances. How many more do I give it?

And last night I received the contract and proofs for the MS poems that will appear in Phantom Drift, the fabulist literature journal published out of Oregon. That acceptance means nearly 80% of the manuscript has been published in various publications already. Practically, I'd say that maybe this indicates the poems are good but the book doesn't work as a book -- but I'm having a difficult time believing that. Maybe I'm just severely misguided.

Oh. Speaking of severely misguided, yesterday I was working in a coffee shop and the woman across the way from me told the man she was with, "You don't have to read poetry to write poetry. I WRITE a lot of poetry and I don't read ANYONE'S poetry."

Yes, I regurgitated a little of my muffin when she said this.

She also said that she fears an editor wouldn't understand and might possibly destroy her vision.

So, you know. Whatever's wrong with me and my book, at least I"m not that.

(For what it's worth, she said this as a way to encourage the man to write poetry. She said the things he said sounded like a poet's way of talking. BUT HOW WOULD SHE KNOW IF SHE DOESN'T READ POETS???)

Anyway, for all my quibbling about the MS and its future I'm really not despairing. I have new poems brewing (no pun intended) and two plays to finish -- lots that can keep me busy and, ultimately, happy that I'm creating. 


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