when in doubt, read

public domain – wikimedia

Last week I wrote about being a poem-hater. This week, there were three rejections. My poems spent a full week in the resting drawer before I felt I could look at them again. Some weeks are like that.

Since I was busy doubting my poems, it seemed a good time to immerse myself in the poems of others. I read two really good books, and they both reminded me of why I love poetry and why I think it’s important.

The first was Grace, fallen from by Marianne Boruch. For starters, I completely fell for the title. I’m immediately thinking that language is important to this poet, phrases, and definitions, and how language gets used to tell about everything, even grace, even falling from grace. The poems let us inside the mind of a poet who sees things circuitously but, in the end, clearly, and who isn’t afraid to let us go where her mind goes. I read a subtle (and wry) humor in many of the poems, which is not to say they were light. Her use of language is interesting — for example, a sudden fragmented section in an otherwise vernacular poem. Loved it, Reader, loved it!

Next was The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. What is it with the Stegner Fellows? It seems like every time I fall in love with a group of poems, they were written by a Stegner Fellow. Thank you, Universe, for the Stegner Fellows, and this week, especially for Gabrielle Calvocoressi, the master of the series of poems. Although there are several standalone poems in the book, there are also four series, three of them quite long. One is a series of persona poems in which different witnesses recount the last time they saw Amelia Earhart. One is in the voice of a young person (teenager maybe?) who watches drive-in movies from a field near the theater. One is a cycle of poems about a circus fire and its aftermath. Reader, all I can say is, Wowza! She uses the series differently in each — the Amelia Earhart poems dwell together at the beginning of the book; the drive-in poems are dispersed throughout the book, but each subsequent poem uses the previous poem’s last line as its first line (an effective way to create continuity despite the physical distance between poems). In this book place is important — the poems unfold in small towns that feel rural and hard-working — as is the idea of witness. I’m going to be reading Amelia Earhart for a long, long time. You can learn more about the author and read a few of her poems here.

Yesterday, I finally had the courage to sit down with the stack and face my own poems. Even after a spate of rejections. For each poem, I asked myself, Do I believe in this work (this idea came from Kelly and Kathleen in comments on a previous post — thanks ladies!)? If I did, I wrote believe on the bottom of the poem. It was helpful to reframe the question that way — not Do I like this poem? because sometimes we just don’t like our poems — but do I believe in this work. I’m happy to say that I wrote believe on almost every poem, and I even liked most of them better than I did last week. 🙂 Time heals all wounds.

5 thoughts on “when in doubt, read

  1. I haven’t read either of those – thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I am always looking for someone new to inspire me. I like the “believe” idea – like having a whole audience full of people clap their hands and resurrect the Tinkerbell in your heart.

  2. Yay! I’m so happy you did this with The Stack. There was a time – not very long ago – when rejections or very close calls of acceptances would utterly undermine my ability to write, to move forward on new work. Not good. Giving up was never an option, so what to do? That’s when I sat down and re-read each one and said, “I believe in this work, and now I just need to find an editor that does, too.’ This untied my doubt knot, allowing me to start/continue with new work. And those poems that I didn’t believe in? I re-wrote them until I did. And this little quote from Seneca helped: “After a bad harvest, sow again.” 🙂

    • You’re so right when you say giving up is not an option. I have several that are in the rewrite category, but I found your suggestion so very helpful — to ask myself, “Do I believe in this work?” So thanks for sharing it.

  3. Pingback: day 4: Self-Designed Part-Time 7-Day From Scratch With a Little Bit of Crazy Mixed In Writing Residency | the stanza

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