That’s how a group conversation began last night in the writing class I’m taking.
Yes, I said, I know, I know, I’ve been dreading this.
For those just joining us, the Mail Order Bride is a persona who showed up on my poetry doorstep last fall and demanded to be let in. Here is some background info if you’re interested: this post & this post (both from my old blog). And here is one of the Mail Order Bride poems that has seen the light of day in a publication.
I’ve been worrying about the MOB, thinking she might be too overbearing to live with the rest of my poems. I’ve been trying to figure her out — what, exactly, is she helping me to explore? What is she trying to do, barging in here and taking over like this? These poems have all been drafted within the last 8 months, and I’ve struggled to articulate why they’re important and what they’re attempting to do. Yes, certainly an exploration of the joining of one life to another, but that never seemed like the whole story to me. Still, I was at a loss to articulate it for myself.
For class, we were asked to bring a stack of poems that is representative of our work and our voice. Fellow students read the poems and gave feedback. My stack included all 8 of the MOB poems, a few about motherhood, a few about illness, and a few in the style of old tales (witches and wolves and magic spells, oh my!). Finally, a chance to hear from readers who have all of the MOB poems in one stack; a chance to hear about whether or not she plays well with others.
This discussion was so helpful to me, and during the exchange of thoughts and perspectives, I think I finally learned what the MOB is all about. One of my classmates said he felt that, when viewed against the landscape of chronic illness and motherhood, the MOB poems go beyond exploring issues of marriage, and also examine the idea and experience of surrender, and of utter dependence of one person upon another.
When he said this, chills washed through me and I felt dizzy. Sometimes the body knows before the mind does. I think this reader is exactly right. Those of you who’ve been reading a while know that I have a chronic illness that recently (and after many long years of misdiagnosis and missed diagnoses) has been identified as Lupus. During the worst of it, I was utterly dependent on other people — certainly on Husband, my parents, many friends and neighbors — to take care of me and the children. It’s hard to need someone else to button your shirt and tie your shoes; to brush your hair and comfort your crying infant. There is loss, grief, fear (even panic?), and helplessness when, as an adult, your well-being is held completely in another’s hands. But there is also gratitude, a great tenderness, a deep intimacy, and love. These are the lines the Mail Order Bride is walking in all of her poems. I finally get it.
What I learned about the MOB poems will help me make them better and take them forward into the rest of my work. So, anyway, this is a very long-winded way of saying how lucky I feel to have po-friends and colleagues who will read my work and help me to learn about it for myself. And a reminder to myself (and to all the writers and artists in the readership) that we can learn so much when we share our work with others.