National Poetry Month 2017

So I didn’t write 30 poems for National Poetry Month this year. I wrote about 20 and I’m thrilled. As my officemate said to me yesterday morning, that’s more poems than you wrote last April, right? Exactly.

So now I have a  ton of work to revise, which is super because I haven’t send much work out into the world in the last year or so. I’m very much a fits and starts poet. I always have been and probably always will be. I don’t have designated writing times. I don’t have one specific place where I write. I don’t have a specific journal. I have about three journals going right now. This doesn’t include all of the notes I have on my phone. I definitely have a process, but it’s messy and constantly changing and it suits me just fine.

Could I be more prolific if I had a steady routine? Maybe. I used to worry about my routine. I used to worry about whether I was writing “small poems” that anyone would read. I used to worry that I had nothing to say. I used to worry that my point of view wasn’t fresh or sexy or whatever.

I used to worry about my poetry a lot. I still do in the quiet hours of the morning when I wake up at 4 AM and can’t turn my brain off, but then I remember that ultimately, for me, poetry is a selfish exercise. I write poems as way to process the world. Ultimately I keep writing and reading poetry because I want to get better at channeling the human experience into words. That’s what we (poets) are all trying to do, and I think many of us, are trying to do it with love and with great care. We’re not perfect. I’m certainly not, but perfection isn’t really the point anyway, or at least it has never been in my world.

I like the drafts I wrote for National Poetry Month and I was pleased to share some of the prompts with my students during the month of April. Yesterday, during one of my portfolio conferences, a student brought a draft of a poem she wrote from one of our shared prompts. We chatted about it for around 15 minutes and ultimately she decided to include it in her portfolio even though she thinks she’s “terrible at poetry.”

Special shout out to Two Sylvias Press for providing excellent prompts and just being awesome overall.

Also, to all my poet/writer friends, I’m involved in a brand new venture: The Indianapolis Review and we are currently open for submissions of poetry and original artwork. Please check out our website and send us some work. We’d love to read it!

 

National Poetry Month: Days 2-4

The last time I did a poem a day for National Poetry month, I solicited prompts from people. It was part of Tupelo’s 30/30 project, so folks made donations and I wrote poems. I churned through the prompts that came in, but for probably about half the month, I found myself writing without a prompt.

It’s not that I need prompts. The one thing I’ve yet to have trouble with in my poetry life is finding a subject. Whether or not I write successful or interesting poems about those subjects is something else entirely, but I can usually find something that’s knocking around in my brain.

What I’ve discovered so far this time around (and it is early days yet) is I like writing from prompts. I also like the advice that came with one of the prompts from Two Sylvia’s Press, which is to set a timer. Whatever you have after you timer goes off, that’s the first draft of your poem.

I’m a full time faculty member at a community college where I teach five classes. I’m lucky in the respect that only one of those classes is comp, but I still spend a crazy amount of time reading and commenting on student work (can I get a hell yeah from my fellow teachers?), so finding time to write is always a struggle. It’s true that if I get an idea I might let it roll around in my head for a bit before I try to put it down on paper, but if I can just get a draft down in a 10-15 minutes, at least I have something tangible to work with in revision.

This is all to say that I took a fifteen minute break from grading this afternoon and wrote my poem for today. It’s not a perfect draft by any stretch of the imagination, but as I often tell my students, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to exist.

Subjects covered in my poems for days 2-4: mobile therapists, mental health apps, siblings, lemons, class discrepancies, trapper keepers, shells, cracks in plaster ceilings, dolls and trips to the mall.

 

National Poetry Month 2017

It’s April 1st. The tulips that I planted last fall are starting to bloom despite being ravaged by squirrels. The flowering trees are out in a full force and we’re in the final month of the spring semester. It’s also the first day of National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day. Again.

This year I’m writing with prompts supplied by the wonderful and excellent Two Sylvia’s Press and I’m going to try to keep updates flowing through my blog.

This morning I woke up to this prompt: “Write a persona poem from the point of view of a historical figure that has time traveled to this year and is shocked by what he/she sees.”

The idea for this one came pretty quickly as I’ve been thinking about a poem that already kind of fits these criteria. I doubt subsequent poems will come as easy.

The content of poem number one involves a college classroom, grass, geese, a magnolia tree, fluorescent lights and a man with one excellent beard.

Guest Blog: A Letter To My Community College

It is true that in recent months social media has become a bit of a minefield, but today I was reminded of why it can be a really lovely tool as well. I’m neck deep in prepping for the upcoming semester, so it was nice to see this post from 2011 pop up in my Facebook memories. I’m still grateful to my community college and if anything, my feelings have intensified.

A Poet's Ponderings

I’m a guest blogger over at A Librarian’s Lists and Letters. Here’s an excerpt from my post. To read the rest, check out Shannon’s blog.

To My Community College:

If you had asked me ten years ago as a graduating senior from a private liberal arts college what I knew about community colleges, I would have said absolutely nothing. However, this would not have been a true answer because I knew one thing about community colleges: I knew they were looked down upon. How did I know this? Because occasionally when I would tell people unfamiliar with Allegheny College where I went to school they would pause and then say, “Oh,” you go to CCAC.” CCAC stands for Community College of Allegheny County. The first few times this happened, I corrected the questioner but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know anything about CCAC and I’m not a…

View original post 72 more words

Be Kind. Try Hard.

Monday

My morning class shows up happy and chatty and ready to talk poetry. Several students mention they voted early.

Later that afternoon, I chat with a student of mine who is applying to Columbia College in Chicago. He tells me that he applied to Columbia a year ago and was accepted but he couldn’t go because he didn’t have the money. We are discussing his admissions essay where he writes that he is a poor black trans male who will be the first member of his family to graduate from college. He loves jokes and his jokes are his art. He is bright and funny and self deprecating. At the end of our chat he tells me that Nixon is his favorite president. His mother is a political science professor. He loves politics. He also tells me that one time, in the last few weeks, he showed up to our classroom early and two other students were discussing how Hilary was going to wreck the country and Trump was clearly the superior candidate. He told me he put in his earbuds because he couldn’t listen to them anymore.

 

Tuesday

I wear my “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” t-shirt. I attach my Hilary Clinton pin to the lapel of my jean jacket. A few weeks ago at Target I stumbled across the entire alphabet in earrings; each letter is shiny gold. I put “H” in one ear and “C” in the other.

I go to work. I talk with my officemates: an astronomer, a historian and a mathematician. We are all excited. We are all nervous. The historian is coming back to campus that night for an election party sponsored by student life. He is looking forward to it. He says it will be a close race.

I don’t think it will be close. I am confident it will not be close.

I teach both of my classes. I pick my son up from daycare. I get home and my husband is already there. We order tacos for dinner. We put our son to bed around 7:30. We’ve got PBS election coverage streaming through our television.

For the first hour or so, I am fine. It’s going as expected. I am texting my sister, sitting on my couch and sipping a giant glass of red wine.

It is hard to to pinpoint the exact moment when I no longer feel fine, but this is what I remember:

I remember hearing my husband say “how could the polls have gotten this so wrong?” and looking over at him to see sheer bewilderment on his face. It scares the shit out of me.

I remember my sister assuring me over and over again that Pennsylvania will go blue. “She’s got this,” she said. “Of course she does,” I said.

I remember watching my friends on social media move from astonishment to anger to despair.

I remember saying to my husband, “I’m not going to bed until this over.”

I remember going to bed before they called Pennsylvania because I just couldn’t take anymore.

I remember my husband and I getting undressed, sliding into our bed in silence and lying absolutely still in the dark. Our bodies do not touch.

I do not cry.

 

Wednesday

I wake up to my eighteen month old son chattering in his crib. Before I get up, I pick up my phone and open Facebook.

She lost.

I  go to my son’s room and lift him out of his crib. It is not until he comes up to me, throws his little arms around my shins, buries his sleep warmed head in my knees, that I begin to weep.

I am scared.

I go to work. I am the first one in our office. I spend the next hour listening to NPR until my officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, arrives and asks me how I am.

We talk. I feel better. I go back to work.

I am listening to NPR when I hear a female Clinton supporter come over the line. She is sobbing. She says she doesn’t know what to do now. What will happen now that we’ve elected a man  for President of the United States who does not value women?

I am listening to Diane Rhem. A caller wants to know what kind of job she can get under Trump’s plan seeing as how she is a sixty year old woman and can not work in a factory. Diane has to interrupt Peter Navarro, a policy advisor for the Trump campaign, after a few minutes, “Please, Peter. Just answer her question,” but he can’t.

I am angry.

I listen to President Obama’s remarks. He tells us that this is how elections work. That “we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off and we try harder.”

A friend on Twitter retweets: “So, we’re just awake. And we’re here. And we’re exhausted and broken. And she’s cheerful and kind. She’s the future.” I retweet it as well, commenting: I’m trying. I’m trying really, really hard.

My friend direct messages me: “The only reason I am able to function today is because I know I have someone like you as a friend. I’m using “Be kind. Try hard.” as a mantra. I’m here with you.”*

Be kind. Try Hard.

I listen to Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I cry at my desk.

My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I talk some more. We close the door. One of our facilities staff comes into empty the trashcans. He hears us talking about the election and says, “you are my people.”

I teach my class. My student who is applying to Columbia? My student who loves Nixon?

He is absent.

I stop in the women’s room on the second floor of my building after class. I meet another one of facilities staff coming out. She’s just finished cleaning and we chat for a minute. She tells me there are post it notes up on the mirrors. “I know I should take them down, but I’m going to leave them. I really like the one saying. I circled it in pink highlighter.”

The post it note that she circled reads: Now is a time when love is the strongest of all weapons. Stand together. Spread the love.

15036431_10154485934300791_4956663767876230946_n

I go home. My pin still on my lapel. H & C still in my ears.

Later that night my husband turns to me and says, “Well, babe, what are we going to do?”

 

Thursday

H & C still in my ears.

I go to work. My officemate, the historian, says the turn out for the election party was great. There was food and conversation but they had to be out of the building by ten.

I go to my classes. We read “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. My students love it and we discuss it for a large chunk of both class periods. The final lines of her poem mingle with my mantra from the day before:

Beautiful. Be kind. Try. You can make this place beautiful. Try hard. Try hard to make this place beautiful.

I go back to my office. I do some work. I watch Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. I cry.

My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I go downstairs to the food court and we see the our friend from the day before. He asks us how we’re feeling.

I go home. I play with my son. I donate money to promote a safe haven. I share the picture  I took of the post it notes in the bathroom. I see there are notes popping up all over the country. My husband and I make plans to get involved.

I read poems by Annie Finch, Andrienne Rich, Danez Smith, Fatimah Asghar, Aracelis Girmay and many others.

I send messages of support on social media.

Be kind. Try hard.

 

Friday

Standing in a parking lot, I take a picture of the sky. It reminds me of a poem I began before this whole shit show started. I go home and pull up the poem. I work on it for awhile.

15027845_10154491460125791_4786902239556224990_n

Close to a month ago, I bought a ton of daffodil and tulip bulbs from Aldi. I love flowers and these bulbs were on sale, so I might have gone a bit overboard. Regardless, today, in the late November sunlight, I go out into my yard and plant what must be more than fifty bulbs.

In some ways this planting is cathartic. I am angry. It feels good to plunge the nose of my bulb planter into the soft earth and see it break apart. It feels better to stomp on the dirt after I’ve placed the bulb in the hole. After about thirty times, I feel better than I have in days.

I also can’t help but think, pausing to stomp yet another pile of dirt, that come spring my yard will be a riot of color with tulips of every shade and so many daffodils the sun will be jealous.

Be kind. Try hard.

HC still in my ears.

Be kind. Try hard.

I’m here with you.

Be kind. Try hard.

Make this place beautiful.

I will. I will. I will.

* Thank you to my friend who supplied me with this mantra on this day. It saved me then and it is still saving me now. 

PHV: July Stats

I’m a little, OK, a lot late sharing this PHV post. August is always hectic with end of the summer grading but I also took off toward the middle of the month and went home to visit my parents. By the time I got back, it was time to start preparing for the fall semester and today is the last day of the first week.

Farewell summer.

13891887_10154214987620791_8092578409467911441_n

Lake Erie at the end of summer.

New Madrid Summer 2016

My contributor copies of New Madrid arrived on my doorstep this morning. When the FedEx delivery guy dropped them off on my front porch, I was listening to the NPR segment about Philando Castile. It was raining, my husband and son were on their way to work and daycare and the only sound in my house was the voice of Castile’s girlfriend echoing through the speaker.

When I leaf through my copies of New Madrid, I am reminded, as I’ve been reminded all too often lately, that there are so many people in this world who are making beautiful, meaningful art. There are  so many people who are invested in making the world a better place. There are so many people who love with every fiber of their being.

In this particular journal is the first poem I wrote about my son and I have to believe that for him, for all of my friends children and their friends children and on and on and on that we will all keep tearing, and clawing and fighting.