—Shane Seely, author of the poetry collection The Snowbound House
—Catherine Pierce, author of the poetry collections Famous Last Words and The Girls of Peculiar
Yesterday after my intermediate poetry writing class, a student had a hard question for me. “You don’t have to answer this,” she said, “but I hope you do. So do you ever regret going into the field you’re in, being a poetry teacher?”
“Well,” I said, trying not to hesitate too much, raw from a recent career-related rejection and in the midst of trying to come to terms with this very issue myself. I took a breath. “Well, I dropped out of law school to do this.”
She nodded. “Yes, I remember you said that.”
I looked at her. I knew she came from the kind of family that considered college a vehicle to making a good living. I knew she’d struggled with the decision to major in creative writing, and she’d been shocked when I suggested she was talented and might consider graduate school. Finally I said, “I believe ‘success’ in pretty much any career is mostly a matter of luck. Let me put it this way: if I’d put all the same hours into being a lawyer that I’ve put into writing and teaching, and then had bad or mediocre luck, I’d be not only depressed about my lack of success but sorry I spent all those hours on something I didn’t love. As it is, I’ve had bad and mediocre luck in my own field, and at least I can say that I don’t regret all that time spent on writing and teaching.”
She let out a breath she’d been holding. “Because I find myself writing poems all the time–when I’m driving, at work, standing in line, cleaning the kitchen. I’m always having ideas for poems!”
I smiled and told her this was a wonderful thing. I really, really believe it is.
I’m still sorting through my feelings and thoughts here. I want to write a longer essay, interrogating the definitions of “success” and admitting to my own jealousy, self-disgust and despair, my own snobbery, the disappointments and the triumphs and the pettiness of making writing/academia one’s career. For now, though, I can say this: students like this one save my life, every day, because I never question whether responding to them is worthwhile. And despite all my own stupidity and mistakes, having something I do that is absolutely worthwhile, that matters–well, that’s enough to give all my choices some kind of meaning.
I came across this poem today, and loved it so much I had to share. As one of my other friends recently said to me, “Whitman is my prophet.”
ALWAYS WITH WHITMAN
I read his poems and no longer care who I might be.
If I am a woman let him imagine my skirt bright as a yellow awning,
a canopy generous and swaying over supple hips,
or let him imagine that I am a man and he lies awake in bed with me
under a roof of polished beams,
the flicker of the lamplight repeating in the windows.
And always I feel him close, his diction and intonation.
each syllable a chime struck against distress and absence,
each cadence an ointment, a balm to soften resentment,
and deposit on my lips some earthy souvenir,
the ash that lingers on the tongue,
the nectar that washes it clean.
poem first published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Hummingbird Review
Read Victor Florence’s poems in Northwind!
1/10/13 late night update
Read Christina Lutz’s wonderful poem in Anderbo!
Kim Karalius’ short story “The Lost Detective” appears in Stone Thread Publishing’s second speculative fiction anthology, titled Things You Can Create. Get your copy now!
Because this will happen again and again–University of South Florida students and former students publishing their brilliant creative work–my plan is to simply update this entry as things happen.
For now, let’s kick off the 2013 celebration of talent with Ryan Bollenbach’s poem in Rose Red Review!
Clearly I need to read more Jack Gilbert, because his poems say what I need to hear, and those messages keep rolling around in my head. Read these two:
And then read more. The Academy of American Poets has more of his work, which you can access by clicking his name from the page that has “Failing and Flying.”
Every day, I come across things that fascinate me on the internet: poems, stories, essays, videos, pictures, and more. Often those things are related to the literary life; sometimes they’re related to mindfulness or Buddhism or the kind of spirituality that doesn’t judge or claim to have the one right way; sometimes they’re about gender or teaching or just stuff that makes me laugh. I share those links via the various social media networks (yes, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Google+), but I’m a bit of a packrat by nature. Social media is ephemeral. I want to be able to easily search for that one article that talked about gaslighting or that poem I barely remember the title of. I want, basically, a hoarding-place for the stuff I find fascinating. So welcome to my dragon lair. Maybe you’ll have something to add, in which case I’ll be eternally grateful, and I’ll be happy to give your particular piece of gold a place in the pile.