from a stranger’s tree
It’s a common practice in Santa Fe to harvest fruit from neglected trees or even windfalls from the sidewalk or street. I passed an old lady, about my age, doing just that. I wonder if she’ll make jam or sauce.
1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.?
My line breaks tend to be a little weird, a little jaggedy, and I often end up trying to make them more organic, more breath-driven when I revise. That said, I really admire poets who make me think about the line as a unified little strip of beauty with its own structure and drama. A good example of that would be Ted Berrigan, or Bernadette Mayer—I admire both of them, especially Berrigan for the rightness and strangeness of his lines.
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
Yes, writing has everything to do with the body for me. When I write I try to bring myself back to sense memories again and again. And when I was younger, eros was a huge driver behind much of what I wrote. Now that I’m older (ahem!) that energy is more diffused and a bit gentler, but still present in the way that I relate to plants, animals, sky, wind, weather, other people, the world—what else do we have but our bodies?
3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
The economics of it are dismal. If I had spent the same amount of time and energy writing non-fiction articles, I would have made so much more money. Also, if I did a job that non-poetry people understood, a regular job, I think that might make me feel like less of a freak, socially. It’s hard for non-poets to understand the amount of time and money (contest fees, workshops, etc) that goes into this activity. I generally say “I teach creative writing” when people ask me what I do, rather than “I’m a poet.” But this is what I was called to do, so even if it makes little sense in a capitalist economy, I still do it.
4. I’m been thinking about creative “failure.” Can you share some of your thoughts and experiences in this realm?
Every creative “success” I’ve ever had was built upon a mountain of failure. Every book published contains the ghosts of dozens of poems I worked hard on, but which never quite came together. Every book I wrote that ever won a contest was a manuscript I had entered dozens of times before and not won.
There is no protection from failure in this work. Even if you’ve written hundreds of good poems, you’re still capable of writing one that doesn’t work—in fact you will write ones that don’t work. Some of those “failures” can be salvaged in revision—time helps you see what’s missing, where you went off the rails, and correct it. And some of them are just compost.
For the last 20 years I’ve been writing plays as well as poems and personal essays. I haven’t had much success in getting full productions. It’s a hard thing to do, getting someone else to invest money into putting on something you wrote. Two of my full-length plays got produced—one was in Baltimore and I didn’t get to see it because the theater company didn’t have enough money to fly me out. The other one was in Michigan. I’ve also had several workshop productions of plays and musicals. A workshop production is often one where the writer pays the performers to stand at music stands with the scripts in front of them and read the work aloud in front of an audience. You learn a lot that way, but if you have seven actors to pay it gets expensive!
I feel like I’ve still got tons to learn in terms of stagecraft, playwriting, dramatic arcs, etc. I may or may not (probably won’t) learn how to do this thing expertly before I die, but I’m going to keep trying. I love the collaboration with actors, director, lighting people, set designers. The theater community is a rich and loving place, full of very dedicated souls who are doing this crazy thing for love. Those are my people.
5. Anything you’d like to add, new projects or anything else?
I’m currently working on two musicals, writing the book for one and the book and lyrics for another, as well as the manuscript for a new book of poems which feels ready to me, but hasn’t won a contest or been accepted by a publishing house yet. I’m also taking singing lessons and learning more and more about music.
Freshwater is a new commission by the artist Jean Shin that celebrates and pays tribute to the freshwater river mussel, while inviting those of us who live along the Delaware River watershed to consider our responsibilities towards the health of the river and its ecosystem. Interweaving wonder and grief, beauty and decay, Freshwater draws upon the history of the decline and restoration of some of the most endangered species in the United States and offers a glimpse of a healthier potential future for the river and all who depend on it. https://philadelphiacontemporary.org/projects/jean-shin-freshwater
From ecoartspace on Facebook. (Check out ecoartspace–a tremendous, and active–organization based right in my neighborhood! Consider joining: https://www.ecoartspace.org/)
Featured artist and ecoartspace member is Luba Zygarewicz and her recent installation titled SENTINELS, Keepers of Light: Community environmental project, 2021, working with Monofilament and broken fishing ropes recovered along the shores of East-port, Maine (168 x 144 x 120 inches). Zygarewicz gravitates to creating pieces that, in time, accumulate to a larger whole, working with materials such as hair, lint, twigs, cotton, and tea. Her work comments on the transience of time and landscape and elevates the seemingly banal through immersive, place-based installations and sculptures. Born in Chile, raised in Bolivia, Zygarewicz moved to San Francisco at the age of 15. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Loyola University, New Orleans, and her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.
When I was in high school, I wrote a poem about my mother taking me for an abortion and published it in the high school literary magazine. My mom taught at my all-girls’ high school, and we both got a lot of flak. Of course, this had never happened. I was not pregnant in high school, and if I had been I’d have gotten an abortion by myself, not with my mother.
It was, predictably, a bad poem. I think the central image was of an overblown blue balloon. The most exciting line was “my mother takes me to the abortionist.”
At that time, abortion had just become legal in New York State. For a pregnant high school student the previous options had been to confess to your parents. Some might whisk you off for an abortion in Puerto Rico. Some might send you away to an invented aunt, where you’d give up the baby after a secret pregnancy. Some might force you to marry the guy. Or you could keep quiet and start drinking bleach and throw yourselves down the stairs. Or kill yourself.
We were an unsophisticated group, living at home, without money of our own. An illegal abortion would have been available to a slightly older group, but I never knew of anyone in my school who had one.
As regards the poem, I knew nothing of any of this first-hand, except of course I knew my mother. My mother could be very harsh towards me. She forced piano lessons on me, would never let me quit, and seemed content to listen to me cry as I sat on strike, glued to the piano seat—but not playing the piano—a half hour a day, the better part of a year, until she caved when I was sixteen.
However, my mother could also be transcendent. She shrugged off the gossip. “It’s a POEM,” she told me. “It isn’t literally true.” We shared a love of literature, its ability to create other worlds, other truths. In my poem my mother also provided a solution that allowed autonomy.
Then with publication she rose to the occasion, and to my most positive view of her.
My mother, and her mother Sadie, are the reasons I will always support a right to choose. They came out of an older world where mothers suffered, and often died, from endless enforced child-bearing and lack of contraception. One of Margaret Sanger’s early slogans was: “Mothers! Don’t leave your children orphaned!” By that she meant that contraceptives should be available, as opposed to dying in pregnancy or childbirth.
I should note here that my mother and grandmother came out of a Yiddishkeit culture. My grandmother was from a stetl in Eastern Europe, and was observant before she came to America. Judaism does not forbid abortion, and places the life of the mother first in all situations.
My mother would get an odd look on her face when discussing this: rage, and fear, but mostly rage. She’d seen things I hadn’t. And she didn’t want me to see them.
I feel the same about my daughter and grand-daughter. But now I too am afraid we are going to see those things.
Editor’s note. On Facebook and other venues I’ve been reading accounts of abortion before it was legal. If anyone wants to publish anything like this on Miriam’s Well it can be done anonymously or with author credit as you prefer. Drop me a note at email@example.com
No anti-choice approaches or diatribes, please–this is not a venue for that.
The city folds itself to sleep
along familiar crease lines
east to west, north to south
curb to curve
inside turned out
I dream of you
perhaps you of me
held by Indra’s Net
two drops of dew
trembled by time.
It is a truism that every person has a book inside of them. However, this isn’t exactly accurate.
No book is inside the constructed self that anyone calls “me.” That self itself isn’t as “real” as a swing set on a playground, but I’ll leave the details of that to Buddhism and other spiritual paths.
Any book–written, partially written, or just aspirational–exists in an intermediate zone that consists of you, your imagination, literary lineage, and the world of other people. It doesn’t reside in the conscious mind, or we could grab it like a dental appointment card. It isn’t unconscious either, or it would stay that way. Rather, it is located in what Freudians used to call the pre-conscious–the realm where things emerge: dreams, daydreams, visions, and of course stories.
That book you want to write is made of only one substance: words. Words and sentences from whatever language you are writing in. Language is a book’s mother, grandmother, foster mother, step-mother, godmother, sister, and all of its second cousins once removed.
The book belongs to language as much as to you.
To write it, you must navigate between the lived and the observed, between what you think is the self and everything else. Books called “How To Write A Novel” are full of handy tips but they don’t always admit that a book is not inside the writer as if it were an internal organ. You don’t control it. You don’t even possess it. You might invoke it, incubate it, conjure it, or fashion it. Indeed, you should.
But you can’t pull it out like a radish from the earth or a bean from a toddler’s nose.