I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of waiting for the mutant limbs I was guaranteed after getting my COVID vaccines. The CDC has expanded eligibility for COVID vaccine boosters to all adults, and at this point I feel like I’m owed at least an extra arm, if not super powers.
It’s one of those poems that, when I finished it, I thought “This is a great poem.” I believe in all the poems I submit (or I wouldn’t consider them ready to submit), but occasionally I write one that I feel in my bones can stand alongside the best poetry being written right now.
When I say “feel in my bones”, I do mean that somewhat literally. You know how when you experience a great piece of art, you have a physical reaction to it—maybe you cry or feel a tingle in your chest or your focus is suddenly razor-sharp? I know I’ve written something special when, after I’ve gone through the drafting & revision processes, and let it sit, and then return to it, I still feel a blossoming as though the poem were just coming in to me.
I had a sincere exchange with The West Review’s Editor-in-Chief, Despy Boutris, about one word in the poem, where we expressed our positions and came to what I think is a good compromise. I love working with editors. I admit that my knee-jerk reaction is always incredulity whenever someone wants to change my work, but I would also say that any change I’ve made in concert with an editor has unequivocally improved the poem. I’m grateful for the time & energy that other people spend on my work.
Things are moving along! I decided that, no matter what, I’m releasing the book in 2022. I already own the domain, and it’s, strictly speaking, a functional website right now, so I’m not going to allow myself to delay it beyond next year. Very excited to have made that decision, and a huge relief.
Definitely not /loo-is-ville/. (I could really use an IPA character set on this blog.)
I spent last week in Louisville, Kentucky, working on the booksite. I’ve visited a handful of times, and it’s maybe my favorite Southern city. I got more done that I expected, but less than I hoped. The marketing plan took more time than I expected. Who could have guessed that the work of an entire industry would be challenging for a complete novice?
Like any writing retreat, the great benefit of taking this trip was uninterrupted time to focus on my project. And as usual, it was glorious. I completed some long-incomplete drafts, submitted every day (my acceptance above came from a submission during this week!), walked several miles per day through beautiful Old Louisville, drank some very good coffee & beer, and came up with some crazy, interesting ideas for how to publicize the book. Not having to context-shift every 20 minutes like I do in my normal life, I was making connections constantly (what is creativity other than these novel connections?)
The retreat also highlighted some kind of obscure sorrow—acknowledging all the work I can’t & may never complete because I simply don’t have time while living in a coercive, exploitative economic system that forces me to sell my labor for capital to produce objectively meaningless work, and to make that the first & driving priority in my life. I know that sounds a bit sardonic & screedy, but I think that sentiment really is universal enough that we should have a phrase or word for it. I’m not a linguist, someone help.
Spreading the word
I’ve been creating a plan to publicize the book, and having this inviolable time to concentrate on my creative life resulted in some of the crazy ideas I mentioned above. I won’t undertake all of these, but they’re kicking around now:
My best friend, Brandon Cox, is the General Manager at Southern Grist Brewing, and also a talented homebrewer. I would love to collaborate on a recipe and can/bottle a limited run. I’ve even thought of a few poem-themed beer names.
This really has less to do with publicity for the book than scratching an itch. One of the most interesting things in the world to me is simply someone talking about something they’re passionate about. Obviously, there are plenty of those podcasts out there, so mine would add a poetic element, with the idea of responding to Dana Gioia’s now-pretty-old recommendations for reinvigorating poetry in the American consciousness.
I have, I think, a solid format in mind. And ideas for several guests. The issue, as always, will be my capacity and that of the guests.
Eugenia Leigh created a trailer for her book Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows. I have a lot of friends who work in production (Knoxville is a big TV production town as it turns out), so it would be fun to put something together here. I don’t have any kind of vision, though, and doubt I could get everyone together to move on this until the idea of COVID as endemic is more normalized. Still, a guy can dream.
A digital experience
Augmented reality, NFTs, a professional-looking website! All this & more is possible when you have insanely talented friends!
In this case, my buddy Travis Vignon came up with a brilliant idea for moving my poems into the realm of AR. I won’t give anything away in case I don’t have the capacity to follow up on it, but I’ll just say it would be the most significant advancement in the world of poetics since WC Williams created an American form with his triadic line. More or less.
On November 14, I joined Rattlecast for the first time. I remember, weeks ago, Rattle editor Timothy Green said he was surprised that so few poets took the opportunity to read their poems on the open mic. (Rattle, by the way, has one of the widest readerships of any literary journal.). So I finally joined for Ananda Lima’s feature, and plan to continue joining as a simple way to get my name out there.
You can hear me read & briefly discuss my book & my poem here. (I hope this doesn’t count as “publication” to some. I’ll keep submitting it, regardless.)
Another friend, Joel Smith, teaches high school mathematics & robotics in Knoxville. One of his colleagues in literature concludes a unit with a “poetry cafe”, where faculty can read/perform poems to the students. He asked my permission to read Apologia of Having No Clear Answers, and did so this past week.
It’s hard to express how meaningful that is. That he thought of me first, and wanted to share something I wrote with his colleagues & students, feels so good. It’s a poem dealing with solitude & uncertainty, and he said he thought the students needed to hear it right now, as the institutions they should be able to rely on have crumbled around them in the last two years. As though what poets do matters! I know we all believe it does, but I’m grateful to feel that. He reported enthusiastic reception from the teacher & librarian (who wants to carry my book in the school!) and attentive listeners among the students. He has a great voice and captivating presence, so I knew he would be a great reader of my (or anyone’s) poetry; he did confirm that the only Poet Voice came from other readers
Earlier this year, I was talking to my therapist about the book & my thoughts about completing such a huge project. I told him I had heard that artists often go through a depressive period afterward, and he told me that I should do two things when I finish:
- Not start a new project, and instead take time to appreciate what I accomplished
- Do something to celebrate
In that vein, when the booksite is finally live, I’m going to get a tattoo to celebrate. I’ve actually been trying to get an appointment with a Nashville artist, but she’s extremely popular, and her books have only been open for ~2 hours all year. I submitted through her website, but never got a response, so I’m gonna branch out and look for artists with a similar palette.
I was wrong about the Sabres. They are bad! But the Vols are going bowling (I called that upset over Kentucky), and the Bills will (probably) still win the division.
Another week, another new injury (actually a couple weeks ago now)! We were practicing takedowns from the pummel position, which in this case included a hip toss. We train on mats, of course, but I guess I took one too many falls and, despite knowing how to fall correctly, I seem to have a bruised rib. Or maybe bruised intercostals? Either way, it hurt to take deep breaths.
Since this country is rhinestone-studded trash, I didn’t go to the doctor for imaging, because an x-ray would cost somewhere in the range of hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Hard to say, really, since those charges vary wildly and providers & facilities don’t have to disclose those costs. So yeah, this whole system is really optimized for human beings.
I’m not sure if that’s a real phrase, but one thing I’ve been meaning to talk about is the vibe at martial arts gyms. You may or may not be surprised to hear that people who are learning how to attack & manipulate the human body tend to be extremely careful practitioners. My not-insignificant experience is that people are constantly talking through what they’re doing, trying to help each other understand the theory underpinning the practice, & apologizing for small mistakes.
I think apologizing is mostly a novice thing. As you get more comfortable, my sense is that you don’t really apologize for accidents (you’re in a gym learning to hurt people, after all), and also you simply make fewer mistakes. We know it wasn’t malicious; you’ll figure it out and do better. Plus, fighters are overwhelmingly supportive. Probably because, in our home gyms, we’re not competing with each other at all, so we just want to see everyone do well, even when they tap us.
And, maybe most surprising if you’ve never studied martial arts: People who know how to fight do not want to get into fights. For a couple reasons:
- You don’t know what a stranger is capable of, or willing to do to you. Or if they have a weapon.
- Unless you can prove self-defense, you’ve got a greater legal obligation to moderate your body. “Lethal weapons” and all.
I really don’t know how the law parses that latter point. I assume a novice like me has more latitude. For an advanced fighter, though, I’ve heard some devastating (anecdotal) accounts of people defending themselves, but serving prison time because they killed or severely injured an aggressor. I’m not pretending to be an expert, but what I learned to do (from Krav Maga) is:
- Get away.
If you can run away, do that first. No body gets hurt.
- Diffuse the situation.
If it’s reasonable & there’s enough time, saying something weird or silly (“The purple fences are missing their socks!”) can often confuse an aggressive person and break that hormonal spell. Then you get away.
- Fight, and be the first person to attack.
If there is absolutely gonna be a fight, be the one to start & end it. Then you get away.
I’m a bigger guy, but I’m more afraid of a street fight now (as a reasonably capable fighter) than when I was 20 years old, 30 lbs lighter, and did not know how to handle my body. Even while I feel confident & safe in almost any situation. It’s a weird dynamic. Definitely some poems in there.
- The title of this post comes from robert bly's collection the light around the body