Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pondering the Last Minute

Mucho months ago I signed up for a six-hour/one-day poetry workshop. A year ago I’d signed up for an earlier version of the same workshop, which had fortysome participants. But this time, it would be more intimate, with far fewer attendants; so I made it a point to sign up early, lest I lose my chance of getting in.

But here’s the thing: The workshop takes place in less than a week, and as of one or two days ago, I was the only one who’d signed up. And in an ironic twist to my feeling that I needed to get in early in order to get a spot, there’s a possible chance not enough people will register in order to make the workshop a “go.” However, the woman who’s conducting the workshop says this sorta thing happens pretty much all the time: folks waiting until after the two-minute warning to commit themselves to attending.

This tendency has me pondering what sorta writing career I wanna pursue. Workshops and conferences and the like are a way to help replenish the coffers in-between writing gigs. And while my finding out a mere week before this current workshop that I was the only one who’d signed up was a bit unsettling, it had to be even moreso for Rosemerry—she has had to put in the time and energy and effort for a workshop that might not take place. And to hear from her that this is somewhat par for the course… Well, grrrr. I’m wanting my vocation to be _less_ stressful than my current paying-job. I tend to do badly and poorly, being held in suspension while waiting for a, Good To Go. There are other writerly avenues that can be followed, but still…

However, workshops and such are also a way to build an audience, to promote yourself as “the real deal,” and to escape the solipsistic vortex of crafting and to engage yourself in the writing community. (And, too, sometimes workshops do have participants, do happen.) And surely, being a writer, I’ve dealt before with ideas not panning out. Yet I keep returning the pages, even without any guarantees. It’s to be expected. It’s par for the course.

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Why Bother

I was brought up to not bother anybody. During the passing years, this has been transformed into a quiet, behind-the-scenes modus operandi. This is okay and good for dealing with people, especially at work, but it’s not such a good tendency for someone wishing to be a writer, to get their stuff “out there.” Case in point: Susan Tweit had to urge me repeatedly to check with High Country News regarding my essay they’d accepted eight or nine months before, to see where it was in their queue. When I did finally ask, after more than a month of Susan’s persistence, a whirlwind of activity ensued around my essay, which led to it being published not long after my query.

Further, when the local land trust organization recently held a reading at the local independent bookstore, I put off contacting anyone to find out whether I could be added, reading that same HCN essay. Once again, when I finally did ask, just one day before the reading, I was quickly added and included. As it turned out, I was last to read, and was told that my reading gave the event a proper ending.

It’s such a short distance between being brought up not to bother others and seeing yourself as being not worth the bother. In my last blogpost, I showed how this spilled into my perceptions of myself as a writer, and especially with seeing myself as a poet. In both of the mentioned circumstances regarding my High Country News essay, it was only after “bothering” somebody that my writing was finally able to fulfill its intent: to inform and serve.

Of course, this question of, Why bother, also applies at the beginning stages of writing, when envisioning and crafting each piece—even and especially the pieces of writing that never get beyond being just parts and pieces, never becoming wholly completed works. We bother doing the writing, and bother others about our writing, because in each case it turns out to be no bother at all.

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Re:Vision

I had written so poorly for so long, that when I wrote [the short story], “Where the Sea Used to Be,” I didn’t immediately recognize it as being that much better. But later, I remembered thinking that good writing was as much a way of looking at the world as it was a process or technique of writing.  –Rick Bass, interview with Kevin Breen, Poets & Writers, May/June 1993, p21.

I’m still working through quirks and issues with considering myself a poet. While I’ve been something of a writer for over two decades, it’s just recently I’ve included poetry possibly in the mix. My problem has mostly been due to holding poetry and poets above myself and my abilities. Such high regard I’ve held for both, there was no way a schlub like me could reach that high. Sure, I’d dabbled once or twice, but I immediately remanded myself, returning my hands back inside the vehicle.

And then Western Slope poets came to town, one February evening this year. Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, a Facebook friend whose workshop I’d taken last July, emailed me after she’d gotten home, expressing surprise that I’d not read anything at the evening’s open mic. When I explained that I didn’t see myself as a poet, although poets had been quite welcoming to me, Rosemerry’s reply was sharply elegant:

Dear Poet,

You are a poet.

Signed,

another poet.

When April arrived, it was because of Rosemerry that I was included in a FB poetry group whose members posted daily poems due to it being National Poetry Month. With the exception of the first two days, I posted something new each day in April; and I was looking through some of them, last night. The local independent bookstore will be having its second annual Rapid Fire Salute to the Written Word, this evening, which I’ve been invited (once again) to participate in, so I was searching for something of mine to read that’s short. But with the distance and perspective brought by time, I was cringing hard at most of my April Poem submissions. See, not so much a poet, I said to myself.

Yet, here’s the thing. While the crafting of those poems may indeed have been cringe-worthy, they each had a perspective, a way of viewing and seeing the world that distinguished them.

Can writing be taught? Well, the techniques and crafting might be teachable; but you’ve either have the eye for what’s worth writing about or you don’t. Without being able to detect and discern that “heaven in a grain of sand,” you’re left with what Salman Rushdie has called, “humorless, bloodless competence.”

So, yeah, no surprise so many of my poems still need so much work. After all, one: I was cranking them out, one per day; and two, even though I’ve a couple decades of writing under my pen, I’m still new to writing poetry. So, never mind the structural work that’s still needed—that’s the easy part. Any house builder will tell you, it’s the foundation that’s the hardest and most important to get right.

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