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Thin Skin and How to Cure it

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.   

               Marilyn Kallet

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The only advice that works

The only advice that works for me is to remember that a person's meanness, freak out, or rudeness is about him or her.  Not me.  Likely this person would die to be published, and in his feelings of jealousy or self-doubt or despair, said "Black Widow Press," in a way that tried pull him out of his feelings (didn't work) and blasted you with those feelings (worked).

It's not about you, your book, the press.  It's about that person having a very bad personal day.  Poor thing (ha!).

The good news is that you can walk away from that person.  Not choose to spend time with that person.  Avoid that person and all his bad feelings.  But if you get caught, remember, it's him, not you.

But yes, write to authors, drink wine in moderation, write.  Good cures, all.


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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What a Wise Comment! I'll take this one to heart.

Thanks, Jessica!  Excellent advice.  

You sound like a tough cookie--not easy getting there, for women especially.

I appreciate your support and encouragement.  Cheers to you, in your work--as ever, Marilyn 

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One other cure

Vent a bit on Red Room! (But then you appear to have figured that part out.)

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Who Me, Vent? Kvetch? Red Room does help--

You are so right!   Red Room is breathing space.   And I'm amazed at the encouragement offered by other writers.  It does heal--maybe not the lame and the blind, but the pissed-off? O yes.

All cheers to you in your work, personal and Red-Roomy, 


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One cures thin skin by turning it in the smoke of accomplishment.

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The Beginning of a Book of Aphorisms for Writers? Why not?

I like the wit in this, and the substance, too.

Oddly, your comment makes me hungry!  (The line makes me want prosciutto!  Now there's some thin skin worth its salt!)

Yours is a one-liner worth keeping! 

Cheers Brother Dale!  Marilyn 

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Response to your new book

Marilyn go to http://kathrynstriplingbyer.blogspot.com/2008/09/bad-reviews.html and read my advice. Put on an in-your-face shawl, pull on your Cole Haan boots and dance. Red wine is not enough when you get hit with a brainless review from someone at coldfont.com, as I was for my latest book, nor is, at the moment, trying to write more poetry, or at least not for me. Somehow that negative energy has to be danced away, and flamenco is the best I know. Then the poetry can come back, and besides, we'll have gotten some good cardio in the proces!
I'm going to add this blog to red room, though you'll have to go to blogspot for all the photos.

P.S., often English faculty really don't know about current poetry and publishers. They aren't being mean-spirited, they are just clueless. And when people hear "Black Widow," the response likely rises up from the reptilian brain stem. Know what I mean?

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Aha! I love the Flamenco dancing cure! I'm in!

And may I then have permission to buy the new boots?  I'll tell Lou that the Poet Laureate of North Carolina recommended it.

I'm off now to read your advice and look at photos.

Yes, I know they're clueless.  Reptilian, absolutely!

love and cheers, Marilyn 

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I love your face in the flamenco pictures!

You make me laugh and cheer!   I left a comment on your blogspot.

love and thanks, Marilyn 

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Gee, Marilyn--

 I wish I had known that when I read your note! Krishna has a little phrase for  educated ignoramuses: masur bondas, after the Indian fried doughnut.Or else after the warlike tribe that puts castor oil on its collective head.

Anyway, a big harrumph from me on your behalf.



Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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Krishna's phrase made laugh out loud!

I treasure these new phrases from Krishna.   Tell him he's missing his vocation as a humorist!  

You keep from taking of this too seriously, and that's very good!

Rock on, sister spirit--Marilyn 

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nice thread

Fascinatng story.  You can spend a lot of time thinking about negative attitudes in English departments.  I know I do.  Although I like Jessica's advice, its not alwas true--people can be truly demissive of what their colleagues have done even when they are actively publishing--even publishing in forums with the highest of high profiles.  Nietzsche spoke of ressentment and I would fall in behind him.

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Good to hear from you, Matthew!

Tell me more about Nietzsche's concept.

 I like Kay Byer's idea of wrapping self in a bright shawl (maybe not for you, Matthew!)  Boldness above all.

And winning a major prize might help!  :)  

You'll be seeing some of my colleagues at the 20th century conference.   Keep an eye/ear out for Josh Robbins--he's a terrific poet!

Rock on, cycle on!  Marilyn 

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Thinking about your thought....

"The poem formalizes the feelings, so that the made object is no longer us." I had never had that thought before. I am grateful for it. (Is that why writing is so therapeutic? And by reading that made object, the right reader is often healed also.) Put your one liner in that book, Marilyn, along with Dale Estey's wise counsel.

Creating is a wonderful activity, but so is sharing what has been created. Even better is when the recipient likes what we cook or share. So, of course, it hurts when someone snubs our offering. It is okay to hurt; it proves our humanity.

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Just found your graceful comment, Sue.

Your responses are always a confirmation of our lives in art--and I am very grateful.  

I take my cue here from Sharon Olds who will often say things like, "The poem is about a father"  (not about her particular father!)  One has to do some distancing in order to create at all.

And if the poem is well-made it is an object.  Maybe not a Grecian urn, but something more contemporary--a red wheelbarrow, say, or in my poetry, a red pocketbook!  I wish!   :) 

Thanks again, Marilyn