I guess I should start this whole taking-blogging-seriously thing with some sort of introductory Hello post.
I’ve migrated here from LJ-land, and I want this to be more of a professional blog. The problem is, I’ve never felt like a professional. Six years ago I was a biochemistry major at the University of Rochester, thinking of maybe minoring in creative writing because it would be fun to write a novel some day. The novel would probably be Spec Fic, centered around some obscure and inaccurate physics theory. I don’t even know why this seemed like fun. English was by far my worst subject, and throughout high school I’d loathed spending hours writing papers on Thomas Hardy that would always lack the cold precision of a calculus proof.
As for poetry, I’d written a chapbook of ten poems — the mandatory minimum for 11th grade English. All were sing-songy rhymes. Colored fonts, Lucida Calligraphy. I can’t believe I’m posting this:
Weave not thy vest in threads of gold,
A wisely noble wizard told,
Jeweled brow an anger doth enfold,
To a pauper’s mind not yet too old.
Thy feet wear soles which touch the street,
And tongue too young to lie and cheat,
In search of yellow fields of wheat,
The reaper soon the youth will meet.
Our hero glares at voices fair,
And turns his back to royal care,
Follow the sun, he mounts his mare,
Leaves shadow of his silver hair.
Off he rides to golden sky,
The distance where his treasure lie,
Burden shall fall and he will fly,
He tells himself, but asks not why.
What can I say, I was deep.
And then, spring semester 2000. Joanna Scott, who taught advanced fiction was on sabbatical, writing Tourmaline (at least that’s how I remember it), so if I wanted to take a creative writing class, it had to be intro to poetry with her husband, James Longenbach. My other classes were all hardcore math and science, so I figured I could use the break.
All I can remember about the class is that Jim loved that song by Six Pence None the Richer that played incessantly on the radio, and that he shared a poem he’d written about Matthew Sheppard that made me cry. We also read Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry, and though I’m still not a big Pinsky fan, poetry started to make sense. It was easy to write, fun, so I kept taking classes, later with Barbara Jordan.
Meanwhile I’d been working in an entry-level job at a molecular biology lab, running melts and electrolysis gels, but mostly washing dishes. Coming to understand the hidden workings of the universe was always fascinating, but the mundane routine of lab life got boring fast. Sick of pipettes, I started skipping my biology lab requirement to go to the library and read or play pickup basketball at the gym. I got zeros on several lab exams before I realized we had lab exams, which still annoys me whenever I see the three letters GPA. I was officially listless. And so a biochemistry major became an English major.
For an honors diploma in English you needed to write a thesis. Begin the first novel. (Little secret: novels are hard.) I had a great idea, I thought, for a Michael Cunningham-esque book contrasting Nabokov’s expectations in writing Lolita, and the modern results — an online community of ‘nymphets’ and ‘humbers’ that my friend had found his little sister a part of; 13-year-old girls trading tips on how to seduce old men. I wrote the first chapter following my contemporary heroine home from school, but then chapter two was supposed to flash back to Vladmir, and it quickly occurred to me that I know nothing about pre-revolutionary Russia, and didn’t have time to learn. In a panic, I put together my second chapbook, perhaps slightly better than the first, and handed that in instead.
After graduation I spent a couple years as an overnight counselor at a group home, which provided hours every night to do nothing but read and write, and try to stay awake. The latter was supposed to be the challenge, everyone else in the house passed out on mood tranquilizers. But I had my books and my poetry to protect me.
Eventually I decided to start submitting work, and one of the first journals I submitted poems to was RATTLE. Through some chancy miracle that submission led to a part-time job offer, and that part-time job led to a full-time job, and now two years after moving from Rochester to LA I find myself editor, making a living at something I’d do for free.
So I guess the big secret is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. I love reading and writing poems, and I think I’m pretty good at my job, but the idea of having a writer’s blog is a little daunting. After this post I have no idea what I’m going to say next. On the newly revised RATTLE website we have a Poem of the Week, and I think I’ll try to explain what I like about each poem I pick for that. I guess I’ll also talk about various books as I read them, random thoughts. And I’ll post my own poems sometimes, some length of time after they’ve been published.
Speaking of novels, I think this is one. If there’s anyone out there reading who actually made it this far (which sounds a little like a Carl Sagan proposition) — what was it that drew you to poetry, either as a reader or writer? (I’m assuming if anyone reads this, it will be poetry people.) It seems to me that most people started much earlier than I did, hiding poems in leather journals under their bed and such. But if you have a stumbled-into-poetry story, share it.
Or post your first poem so I feel less a loser.