Skill, Will And Practice

I have been making literary products since my twenties.  Though I started writing poetry in elementary school, it wasn’t because I was engaging in a commercial enterprise.  I was writing these pieces because I wanted to make something.  I wanted to create.  Did I know back then that I was engaging in art making?  I think I knew.

IMG_3099.JPG

Hands create

Certainly I’d not thought to call poems “literary products” during all my years of writing,  but that’s exactly what they are, especially when you take the next step of trying to get them published in print or online.   This is my currency as a poet.

IMG_3103.JPG

Scarf 2012

I have been on chapbook and/or full manuscript duty for some years now.  My first book of poems took about five years to put together and I’ve been on this road since.  The mechanics of putting together a book is mysterious even though I’ve done it before.

knitting.JPG

My aunt kniiting in the Bronx, 2012

If I were knitting or crocheting a scarf I could say the stitches are the foundation and you could say the loose pages of poems are the bones of your manuscript.  This is a fair analogy.   Though I haven’t picked up my knitting needles in some years, when I did I knew where the craft came from: a combo of skill, will and practice.  But is that all there is?  No hocus pocus from up high or down below?

I’ve been working on my second book of poems for over a year with a current chapbook on the side.  It would be more romantic to say that Athena shot me with her arrow of war power, but I won’t know until I finish the book.

 

Did I mention

I was borne from the ashes

of the Old World

honor and blood

was my civilization

my small nation

a kingdom of big egos

even our bastards

are royal…

–excerpted from “I Used to Be Korean” by Jiwon Choi

 

Emerging

What does it mean to be an emerging writer? Is it that when you are new and full of hope?

IMG_0679

Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool

And when is it that you can stop “emerging”?  And who gets to decide?

I’m almost fifty, do I have enough time to evolve from my emerging status?  When can I shed the husk of amatuer?

IMG_0148

Max Beckman: “Woman with Mandolin in Yellow and Red”  (1950)

I talked to my publisher Bob Hershon who’s been publishing and writing for over fifty years about the plight of the emerging writer and he expertly noted that the moniker “new writer” is the better description.   With a fifteenth collection under his belt, I can’t disagree.

But how can one be a new writer in their fifth decade?

I am writing my second collection of poetry and I am slow going.   The first one took me over five years.  And I’m super proud of my work, but it doesn’t make writing the second book any easier––layers of complicated feelings and memories that works as the cruxt of your work, but often the obstacle of your progress.

Can you get out of your way?

It is yourself you seek

In a long rage,

Scanning through light and darkness

Mirrors, the page,

Where should reflected be

Your eyes and that thick hair,

That passionate look, that laughter.

––excerpted from “Man Alone” by Louise Bogan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing While Colored

I’ve been submitting my work to Rigorous, “a journal edited and written by people of color” for a little over a year.  It’s an online magazine with the flexibility and expansiveness to accept not only written work, but visual, audio and video arts.  So smart.

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 8.24.41 PM.png

Current issue of Rigorous

I’d not really considered submitting my work to a journal dedicated to writers of color and I wonder why.   Because it’s important this community we are creating through the simple act of creating and sharing our art.  As writing poetry is such a solitary craft, as much of art is, I find a sense of gratitude for this cohesive network of writers.  Sure it’s through the Internet, but it’s there.

In the January 2017 inaugural issue, one of the editors, Kenyatta JP Garcia, wrote of his affinity “towards the experimental, speculative and slipstream” in art, but that he’s mostly seen it done by “white folks”:

We rarely see the brown and black alternative approaches to art but it’s not for lack of trying. Most of us have been taught to ‘work twice as hard’ and many of us took it to heart…While not every piece is overtly political, every time we as the marginalized create something we are being political. Our arts speak of our experiences and worldviews. It speaks from a perspective that has been minimized and silenced. The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

He continues to say that we need community and a support system in this “new era of American policy.”   This policy of Trump that we must resist and help dismantle.

St. Eugene of the Color Blind

What ever happened
to that that light-skinned girl
your brother was dating?
The one your father used to call
“the Mulatto” and we were too dumb to be
embarrassed for him, for us
because that was the eighties and we
were in high school and doped up
on wine coolers. Your mom liked to
comment on her good manners, not like
your Canarsie floozies who hogged the chairs
in the kitchen and mooched all her Shasta.

You liked to say Eugene was color blind
like you were bragging about it
like he was the only one in the clan who
could be that way

but he broke up with her
after all that
when it was clear it was going to be
a hassle every time
to get through checkpoint Charlie
down by Breezy.

He wasn’t better than us
just opposite:

a hypocrite.

      — by Jiwon Choi

Holy Water

 

In high school I got sick off gin and swore it off forever.

gin

So happy

Except I developed a taste for it in my thirties.   The myth of drink for writers is intense.  I am not immune to it, but it’s got less to do with my writing than with my psyche.  But  I can’t write when I’m shitfaced anyways.

I admire Bukowski and can concede that his affinity for drink may have had an effect on his work.  Yes, drinking changes us, probably changed him––maybe he allowed it to became his companion.  But certainly the core of Bukowski as a writer and poet was himself, his life experience, his childhood, his memories, etc.

My dad kept a bottle of Johnnie Walker under his chair for many years.  I think he knew we knew, but did he care?  I don’t care if you know about my bottles, I kinda wear them on my sleeve.

 

Maybe the bliss

that came with drinking came

only after a certain period

of apprenticeship.  Eddie likened

it to the holy man’s self-flagellation

to experience the fullness of faith.

––excerpted from “Gin” by Philip Levine

 

 

 

The Dragonfly

I was in college when I first read Louise Bogan.

bogan

Of enough

I still remember the feeling of being lifted up and bathed in a pure light.   An awakening.

tree

Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, NY

I bet that’s what flowers feel when they are about to burst open to the world after being asleep for all that time.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 2.06.27 PM

Camellia on the verge

I identified with Bogan as a poet who struggled to keep the demons of her childhood in check.  Actually it was just one demon:  her unstable mother who fought with her father, disappeared for regular stretches, and placed her in unsavory situations.  You can read about these Mother-horror tales in Elizabeth Frank’s Bogan bio, but what it comes down to is the most harrowing feeling of being abandoned as a young child that probably scarred her the most.  That scars all of us the most.

Twice-born predator,

You split into the heat,

Swift beyond calculation or capture

You dart into the shadow

Which consumes you.

–– excerpted from “The Dragonfly” by Louise Bogan,