I remember hearing May Sarton read for the first time. She spoke about how vulnerable poets are, how this is who we are when we create, as we open ourselves to feelings that are often raw. Well, she was right, we dig in, we open a vein or two, metaphorically--maybe we even cannibalize ourselves, as Clayton Eshelman says. The poem formalizes the feelings, so that the made object is no longer us. It's a song.
But during the periods of intense composition, as now, for me, working on a new manuscript--one's feelings are easily riled, easily hurt. I went to a faculty meeting yesterday, where the chair of the department held up my new book in front of my colleagues and said how beautiful it was. Others also praised the design. Then the person in back of me said aloud the publisher's name, "Black Widow Press," and laughed. Now Black Widow Press is to poetry what Black Swallow in Berkeley used to be. It is one of the very best presses going, innovative, rich, including the work of Robert Kelly and that very same Clayton Eshelman, quoted earlier. I couldn't expect my literature colleague to know that.
So why leave the meeting feeling a tad miffed?
Why not take in more fully the compliments? How to fend off mockery and really hurtful comments (which this one was not)?
There's a Native American song, Dakota, that's a good mantra:
You cannot harm me
You cannot harm one
who has dreamed a dream like mine.
I sing that one to myself often.
After the meeting, I walked into my kitchen (husband out of town), and poured myself a glass of red wine. Then a second glass. This strategy did not work well for thickening the skin.
For me, writing is the antidote to the agitated feelings, the sense of injury, which no doubt springs from childhood mishegas (that means "crazy stuff" in Yiddish). So I sat down last night at 1 am and wrote some poetry. Then I could sleep. I found some kind messages about the book on my webmail this morning. Tillie Olsen recommended that if one likes a book one should write to the author and say so. I wrote to Cheryl Snell and Charlotte Mandel, both of whom have fine new books out, both inspired poets.
Writing is good medicine.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.