First, you should dash over to Suzanne's place and congratulate her on some well-deserved good news!
Go on. I'll wait right here.
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So, yesterday was a "take the day off for poetry" day. I listened to some downloaded poetry readings and podcasts on the drive up to the University of Indianapolis, which put me nicely in a poetry-ish frame of mind. That is to say, I was noticing the world the way I do when I'm ready to write: the little sounds of things, the way the wind blew crows around, the kestrel that dived into the median grass as I blew by on the highway. (And after the class, I went out to my car and heard the honk-honk of a flock of Canada geese. I looked up into the sky -- nothing nowhere. Geese? Hello? Then I looked about thirty feet right smack in front of me and there they were, marching in single file, wagging their big fat goosey butts as they marched, crossing the parking lot headed for who knows where. For some reason it made me laugh.)
The class was from 12:30-1:50, an undergrad creative writing class whose professor had generously opened up some spaces for community members to sit in on Mark Doty's guest-teaching session. I don't know how the students in the class felt about being invaded by random Hoosier poets, but I thought it was really cool to get the opportunity. We'd been asked to read the "heaven" poems from School of the Arts, and Mark started off by talking a bit about the genesis of those poems, then talking in more detail about the first poem in the book, "Heaven for Helen." That segued very nicely into a Q&A session that quickly became more general than just talking about the heaven poems; I was impressed by how well-prepared and interested the students were. Not all of them spoke up, but a lot of them did, and they asked some good, thoughtful questions.
Interesting bit about School of the Arts: Mark talked about how for many years he'd written with a goal of finding something to affirm, and how this was terribly necessary for a very long time especially at the height of the AIDS crisis in the gay community, when affirmation was in short supply. But as time went on (and I'm really paraphrasing here, but I think I'm close enough to what he said), that reach towards affirmation became something he was just doing out of habit. So as he worked on this book he wanted to resist that habit -- to just let the difficult be difficult, not trying to make it better or fix things.
I have always thought of Doty as a poet who seeks closure, as contrasted with someone like D.A. Powell who deliberately resists closure; to some extent I think what I read as "closure" is at least partly what Doty sees as "affirmation." So is this book successful in its resistance of that tendency? Good question. I'd like to reread the book now with that in mind. Strictly from a "how do you put a book of poetry together" viewpoint, I found this particular insight really fascinating, though.
Anyway, after a good Q&A period, he had us do a writing exercise. I don't always do very well with in-class exercises, or with exercises in general, really. But listening to poetry on the drive up, and the discussion in class, had apparently put me in a good writing frame of mind, and I did manage to come up with something that I think is worth working with. So I'm very pleased about that.
(It was a pretty simple exercise; after talking about the "heaven" poems, each of which is about what the idea of heaven might be like for various people and animals, we were to think of someone -- human or animal -- and first make a list of words about them, maybe phrases. Then we were to take those words/phrases/lines and write a "Heaven for..." poem for them. I was momentarily stumped about who to choose, then thought what the hell and wrote for one of my cats -- and then realized that heaven for a cat would probably involve a certain amount of ripping open small warm mammals, ewww -- and ended up writing basically a small poem in praise of the cat's carnivorous nature, which was not what I expected, but also wasn't the sappy-sweet poem I'm always afraid of writing if I try to write about my cats.)
We talked a bit about what we'd gotten out of the exercise, and then class was pretty much over. A little group of us hung around chatting with Mark and getting books signed, and then I had several hours to fill before the reading. I'd decided against hauling along my laptop, but I did have a couple of books, my journal, and a sheaf of poems I wanted to work on. So I ended up setting up camp in the university library, and while I didn't do any stunningly amazing revisions, I did nudge several poems along in a productive manner and found one that I decided was actually finished.
Went out and got a little late lunch/early dinner, then back to the library where I curled up in a comfy chair and read until time for the reading. It was such a lovely day, reading and writing all afternoon in the library. Can I please win the lottery and live that way all the time, please?
The reading was good, though the only thing he read that I hadn't heard him read before was the excerpt from Dog Years. He did read -- as he probably usually does -- "Lost in the Stars" and "Heaven for Paul," which are two of my favorites of his to listen to. And he told a funny story about talking to a guy on the plane, who asked him what sort of stuff he writes; not wanting to say poetry, he said memoirs. "Oh!" said the guy, "whose memoirs?" At which point he looks out into the audience and says "Oh, I don't know.... Britney Spears?" Heh. So even though there weren't any real surprises in the reading, I'm glad I went; I enjoy his readings, and think he presents his work well. There was a short Q&A after the reading, less interesting than the earlier discussion in class, but not as excruciating as those things can be; and then he went out and signed books. I didn't hang around for that, having already gotten my copy of Dog Years signed, and wanting to get home to my two hungry carnivores who hadn't had their dinner yet.
Anyway, a nice day all around.
Hope you have all had at least one all-around nice day this week, or have one to look forward to in the near future.