where the writers are
A "Real" writer: Do you have to write novels to be one?

Years ago when my first book of poetry, was published in the AWP series by Texas Tech U. press, with blurbs by Maxine Kumin, A.R. Ammons, et. al, a friend asked me when I was going to publish a "real" book.

What is a "real" book? Obviously, to this friend, it was not a book of poetry.

"Verde, que te quiero verde!" This is the response I should have sung back to her.

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Kathryn, your blog reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit...

when Margery Williams writes: "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day. "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." Apparently the person who told you to write a "Real" book is one of the people who doesn't understand.

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What's Real

Hi Jennifer, we loved the Velveteen Rabbit when my daugher was young, and yes, real means becoming, and I don't think a lot of people really understand that. A poem becomes real when we love it for a long, long time, and then it becomes a part of us. We can't tell where it ends and we begin!

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Poetry Does Get the Short End

I had the same response from my mother-in-law, who, when told I had a new book of poems out, said, "Yes, but what I'm interested in is the next children's book!" And she's a really nice lady. Poetry is "other" in America. People feel tested by it (they have middle-school flashbacks), and they don't like that. How to re-educate? We do so every day, by writing, speaking, reading, performing. And not giving a damn what people think (almost!) The positive side of this is that we can tell our poems anything, confide anything. Because poems are the best-kept secrets in the world! Rock on, Marilyn

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Short End

Hey, darlin', we are "other "in a good way, but this business of "testing" has just about destroyed the study of lit. in our schools. So much of the time, the parts of us trying to speak, sing, scream, even, are "other." I will have to tell you about my encounter with a well-educated Iranian dr. who found our lack of background in our own poetry, from Kindergarten on an abominaton. I resented the judgemental tone, but how I could I deny that he was right? The tradition of memorization, carrying poems from your culture aorund in your head for the rest of your life, well, maybe, as you say, they are the pest-kept, secrets in the world and can help us suvive.

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Real ?

Those are the kind of people who believe their dreams are not real either, even tough they have had ones that made them awake with a short breath and a pounding heart. If that´s not real I don´t know what is. The problem lies in privileging what is concrete and logical(and mistankely called real) and despise what is abstract and non-linear. Poetry is more real than many things we can touch. Luciana

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Dreams and Poetry

Luciana, thank you for visiting my blogspot! I've had dreams lately that wake me up with pounding heart. They seem more real that my daily life! And they accompany me through my days. So do poems, though poems give me strength and these dreams that leave me frustrated and frightened do not, unless I look at what they are trying to tell me.
Our inner lives are more real than anything!!!

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Your friend is a cossack.

My first mother-in-law wanted to know when I was going to have a baby - this writing thing wasn't real life, it wasn't what responsible grownups did. That's why she was my first mother-in-law. She certainly wasn't my last. And poetry? It's practically un-American. I salivate at the choices voters have for heads-of-state of other nations - they actually get to cast votes for poets. And poets win. The American way of thinking is hard to take, I know. But let me interject a note of hope here - we just elected an African American president who is an author - and he's part of this website. And I'm sure he at least knows who Maxine Kumin is. That's a good first step. Like Shakespeare, poetry does not seem to have traction in this nation, nor does it seem to be part of the American psyche, except on certain occasions - like inaugurations - and then it's tolerated just to get to the prayer part. Some of the difficulty may be the way it's taught - or not taught - in school, and the place it's had in our history. It didn't come to our shores. Remember Jonathan Edwards' sermons? No wonder poetry isn't an organic part of our culture. If we disrespect 'intellectuals,' how can we possibly expect an understanding of poetry. Poetry is threatening, people don't feel up to it. They're intimidated. It's not a novel, memoir, self help. It's too serious. Opera has the same reputation as poetry - it's not of the masses. It's intellectual. It's intimidating. Yet in Italy, Verdi's gorgeous music transformed his nation. It was most definitely for and of the masses.  There's a lot of respect here for the almighty buck and not much for the almighty tree. PS - Your friend is a cossack.

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Evelyn, there's so much in your comment that I could respond to, pages and pages. I've been thinking a lot about this. I used Obama's 2 poems from his student days in my workshop at Albany St. Univ. ---a traditionally black school. The loved the poems and wrote some really good pieces in response. I'm still cogitating on a response to your response. I do remember years ago visiting Verona, going to the opera, and we were up on the seconda gradinata with the butchers, barbers, etc, in their underwear tee's (it was hot as hell), and we all sat there with our lighted candles at the start of Ernani, and yes, all the folks around us knew the arias, could sing along. One of the most moving experiences of my life.

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I've gotten to this months late,

but my question would be, ``Is she a `real' friend?'' Sometimes you have to wonder.