Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Surely Another Writer

Late last week, I came across a mini-anthology of poetry which contains my only published poem. It’s the result of a nine-years-ago contest conducted by our local poetry group. Since it’d been some time since I’d last looked through the collection, I did so again, curious to see what names, now familiar these years later, popped out at me. The name of one local poet did catch my eye—someone whom I’ve wound up getting to know and spend time with. When I told her about finding the chapbook, and seeing her three poems in it, she commented that she had a vague recollection of those poems, and wondered how I relate, now, to my own poem from the collection. Well, I’d cringed when I reread it—I’d do it so differently, now. And, as she said about herself, “It was surely another [person] who wrote that.”
I guess it’s a good sign that something I wrote a little more than nine years ago makes me cringe. I must be getting somewhere, after all. And maybe I am maturing in my craft. Maybe I’m maturing as a person, as well. 
But let’s not allow my cringing to be the final word on the matter. For one thing, knowledgeable people decided the poem was something other than cringy, for they published it. (And in fact, when our local paper ran its article about the collection, mine was one of the three or four poems mentioned by name.) I wrote the poem to the best of my abilities, then—just as I currently do, and will continue doing. Hopefully, I’ll be always improving, always seeing an increase across the years in the caliber of my writing. In a sense, I’ll forever be the same writer: writing to the best of my continually increasing ability.
Yet, I’ll also forever be another writer: changing, improving, building and developing upon what “surely another person” has done. Whatever greatness I might realize as a writer will be due to my standing on the shoulders of those other persons.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Big Conversation

Sometimes the old standard-issue reasons for doing something, especially why you do your art, become, indeed, standard-issue and old. The more they’re recited, the more they ring as outworn and untrue. Hopefully, a new perspective on the why, a revision as it were, comes along and you see again with clarity why you continue the hard and often isolating work.
Recent discussions with a Western Slope poet and educator have brought me this sort of beginner’s eye regarding the reason why I persist with my writing. It’s not a new idea whatsoever, and it’s always been there, even if unrecognized and unnamed: I write to engage, be involved in, and expand the Big Conversation.
There are matters and issues about life which are central and important: love, relationships, community, integrity, compassion, empathy, openness, focusing, becoming/being whom we’re meant to be. Each of these categories is expansive and has a plethora of entry-points and multiple layers. The connections and overlaps among them are, likewise, numerous. Discussions about them are much of what comprises the Big Conversation—the nitty-gritty stuff at the foundational core of our lives.
In defining, vocation, Frederick Buechner said it’s, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For me, the Big Conversation fulfills both. It’s what I most wish to be engaged in and what the world appears most desperate for.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Putting Yourself “Out There”

Maybe because I was born last, I learned to stay out of people’s way, to not be a problem to others, to be quiet, blend into the scenery, and not call attention to myself. And so here I am, X number of years later, a writer, which requires a special kind of putting yourself out there, of presenting yourself to people. Even people who never knew of your existence until you popped up in front of them. It’s not enough to heckle the people you know; you have to also do it to complete strangers.
We artists can tend to not be social critters—which comes in quite handy when the crafting of our artistry needs to get done. Mostly by default, we’re polite and humbly meek. We typically try not calling attention to ourselves. It’s best when we’re off others’ radars. But art requires an audience, which means we artists can’t keep our output tucked away somewhere; we have to publicly display it.
Awhile back, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, a poet of my recent on-line acquaintance, sent me a copy of her just-published work, to review. In the thank you card she included, she wrote, “It’s so hard for me to put myself out there this way,” but that my openness and excitement toward her work, “went a long way toward making it seem ‘okay.’”
I recently asked her about this, because Rosemerry is very definitely, “out there,” what with readings, workshops, co-hosting a monthly video-taped program with Telluride’s Wilkinson Public Library, various group poetry performances, and also published work. (She has yet another collection, coming very soon.) Her reply mentioned the paradox of the scariness of sending deeply personal and intimate work into the world; yet there being little real risk, because the ego isn’t so involved. She concluded with, “I guess my point is that it is a stretch to ‘join the big conversation’ as I like to say, but at the same time it begins to feel dangerous not to. We are all in it together, and if it rises up to join in, then join in!”