I admit it. I am sitting on my best manuscript, holding back from sending it out into the void.
It is a collection of what I believe to be my very best work, and after discovering that a number of the resonant titles I wanted to use have been taken, I’m sure I’m o.k. with this one: Voluble Dusk, Stubborn Love.
The manuscript is holding at nearly a hundred pages. Every day I sit with it, going over the poems, tweaking them here and there, trying to work up my nerve to focus on Contest A or B, Publisher C or D.
All of us fear and hate rejection. But I’ve sent work out and had it accepted—many times. I’ve had it rejected many times, and survived. What is up for grabs for me is how viable it is to imagine that after over 20 years out of the game, I can make a dark horse comeback.
For not until 2010 did I come up for air after having been sidetracked into the demands of a rural life, many years after completion of the M.F.A., and with trepidation, found the first version of this blog, i.e. begin to reclaim the writer me. I read up on “platform building” and I cautiously approached a few other writers who were posting online and building audience.
At one point, I called myself Jen Van Winkle. For I woke out of my living dream to an overwhelming online community of writers I had never even heard of, younger than I am, more prolific than I am, definitely more published than I am.
I also reconnected with poets I had known before whose careers did not derail, who have gone on to realize many goals including the midwifery of many books into the hands of the literate public.
But, daunted as I was, I pressed on; I opened the archive box bulging with my manuscripts of poetry and dusted off my small press book Reunion, and my two chapbooks, put them on display where I could see them, and began to re-validate myself as a writer.. It began with this blog and posting one essay and one poem at a time and getting feedback and encouragement. I’m up to 75 followers of La Parola Vivace….
I tried my hand at a few reviews, which always deepens my understanding of craft. But, it is to write: back to the manuscript. This book is my legacy to the world. If I were to drop dead in the midst of a shower or slip and hit my head in the kitchen, or succumb to some illness, this is the book I would most like to leave behind as my footprint.
For to me it contains the poems in which I am at my lyrical and most open-hearted best. I believe that poetry should sing and feed the soul, even if its themes are sad and hard. A good poem should be a tour d’force of language.. It should not be prosaic and called poetry merely because it is devoid of imagery, happens to be in short little lines, overly micro-managed and controlled and therefore “brilliantly reflective of our fragmented world.”
Another reason I love this book is that it is not a compendium of traumatic personal events—while there are some laments in the collection, I included them because of their success as poems first .and not because they chronicle my personal ups and downs. This is a manuscript that celebrates life rather than going back over the strip-mined personal territory of my earlier work.
Here is the first poem of the first section of the work, which I’ve posted before:
The Solitary Dialect of the Night Owl
I make my way down the blacktop in the deeps of the night,
the long tunnel through the barrio that is the night,
the promenade of stars that night becomes,
Dipper spilling over with distant platinum light.
If we could hear the fanfares of paradise,
we would run falling, sleep-walking,
rowing ourselves over the ice with our own arms,
so stunned by the crescendos of heaven.
I make my way down the blacktopped circuitry
where frost becomes fire and there are star-falling songs
as in an arcade, its few euphoric aces
crossing against eighteen wheelers bearing east,
the long blind ships of the night on their thunderous wheels,
Burlington Northern on its midnight run, the long call
of warning some don’t heed,
hot bikes skidding out in a sea of sparks,
jackets on fire, the lost angels of the night.
I go out to lock the car and there is a voice,
night’s beguiling voice:
something is calling to me; it is calling and fluttering
with topaz eyes that flash like neon asters,
caught in the blight-stripped branches.
Who are you, heading east
by starlight in the deeps of the night.
To whom do you speak,
I reply, making a low noise
in my throat, a low guttural noise
a foolish human would make
in response to a night creature
in a tree in a halo of distant light–
And what are you?
Something come to telegraph
the hour of my death?
I make my way over blackened grass
where frost becomes fire and there are soliloquies
of mourning and surrender;
If I knew the answer, you who preen there
like a night watchman wrapped in the husk
of the dawn and the dark’s last hour,
its last sweet cold kiss stealing my breath,
If I knew who I am or who
I ever was, or might become
I would be at rest,
my head on an eiderdown pillow,
divining your insolent patois
in my dreams.
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews 2012
I am very proud of this poem, that I was able to silence the inner critic and the insecure inner child afraid to open her mouth and lay claim to her abilities. I see myself in this poem seated at the great pipe organ of language, cut loose.
Last year I sent a version of my manuscript out to three places to get back into the groove. No go. A close friend has warned me that a “poetry of statement” is passé’ and I remain a bit unsure of what he means, as it seems that the one word that fits the insane plethora of poets competing with each other, “friending” each other, launching themselves at the contests and the literary journals, is “diversity.” I see neoconfessional poems finding a home, language poems that to me are not about language unless you count the private and discombulating and disjointed under-deployment of language poetry.
I have read narrative poems and lyrical poems and poems you can call narrative lyrical.
This must be a daunting and confounding time in which to run a literary press. With so much talent oozing from the literary pores of the nation, how do you choose and refine and choose the best?
As I said, I love my book. I believe that I have achieved what I set out to do in reclaiming my career as it were—to create something that “stops time with its beauty,” – a statement I read, and can’t source.
It’s not about the subject matter of the poems or whether they’re written in the intimate I or the third person; it’s about the making of art. It is about using my gifts and believing that what some have said of my work is the truth and letting those truths override the negative self-talk, and surmounting one’s own jealousy and embitterment– hard as hell to do.
One of my favorite comments from an editor over the years was from The Seneca Review, back in the 70’s— it was, “You write like an angel.” They had taken a lyrical, discursive poem written in the first person called “Exultations in Late Summer.”
My manuscript Voluble Dusk, Stubborn Love to me is rich and lush, like a bouquet of dark red roses. I want it to feed the soul, to delight, inspire and amaze. I think it should be published by one of the top indie houses such as Graywolf, or Copper Canyon. I think it is deserving of a big award, possibly even the Pulitzer.
My sense, however, is that I dream in too much technicolor—that perhaps my friend is right that the way I write—my effusiveness and focus on the image to deliver my meaning—lacks currency just now.
Or, maybe there’s something else. Maybe there are just so many poets out there that the whole thing has become a game of chance and luck. She who is lucky is not necessarily a better poet or a more authentic poet than someone dealing with the downside of the luck of the draw. I hope I get lucky and am able to see this book come out as a real book, into the world and into the hands of the many people who encourage me, and into many more hands. I’m working on making peace with potentially needing to bring it out myself, which would require some patronship, as was the case in ’73 when a number of us chipped in to found The Minnesota Writers Publishing House.
Regarding what staying the course means for some of us, perhaps more writers than not live in a chronic state of devastation over the cumulative losses and trauma in our lives. Therefore, to make art is to transcend, to invest one’s energies in creating, which feeds the soul and offsets suffering to a great degree, in my experience. Some states of being can only be managed; some losses never go away, never stop whispering their lamentations into the ear.
I think of Rilke, who suffered greatly and yet left an astounding oeuvre for the world. I think of Brahms, who was dying when he attended the premiere of his Requiem, fearing that he would be laughed out of the house. He received a standing ovation and what a glorious piece of music it is.
And, I am inspired to continue by my own brother. We are two who have a great many reasons to give up on ourselves and on life. But we are survivors. He is a terrific, truly gifted and self-taught painter, and an under-recognized one. He doesn’t let this stop him from leasing a gallery and mounting a show. He sustains self-belief and he presses on.
Finally, there’s no arguing that I’ve paid a big price in detaching from the literary community both in my physical location and online when I got lost in caretaking, nurturing, drowning in puppies and goats and horses, for a mere twenty years. And, in the course of coming to terms with how much has changed and how much I need to ingest, learn and uncover to catch up, I’ve certainly clashed with a few editors and indubitably cost myself.
But, for the sake of the art, and how art sustains all of us, it’s game-on for me.