Last night I watched Wife Swap. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that writing a poem is easier than watching an Amazonian body-builder switch places with a Little Person. I only wish I had seen this episode:
No, life isn’t all flowers and sausages.
Some mornings, when I arrive to work late, and Boss is playing Titanic trance music from his Koi’ Samui honeymoon ten years ago, and my to-do list includes “Call bus company to locate lost retainer,” and the day is moving as fast as a sloth stuck behind a slower sloth, I pretend that I’ve swapped places with another woman. I take calls about wheat allergies and bedding with one eye on the door—I’m waiting for the cameras and confetti, the televised reunion with the life that’s rightfully mine.
The Bearded Whorl is in Ohio running summer camp. Before he left, we played Fourth of July flip-cup on the roof with his camp Creative Writing teacher, Scott, who lives in Brooklyn. Scott is a fiction writer. We talked about whiskey tolerence, Dirty Dancing, and the utility of the MFA. I’ve been pretty hard on myself lately because it’s six months since I graduated and now I have to start paying off student loans. My stomach turns everytime I receive a thick Citibank envelope. I stack them beside my Collected Elizabeth Bishop. Sometimes I write words I don’t know on the backs of them, words like delphinium and lava lava. Could it be I’m also starring in an episode of Debt Swap, that I’m saddled with someone else’s bills?
Scott put it simply. All MFA canidates have some talent. The rest is hard-work. This observation isn’t new or radical, but I received it in a new and radical way. In the last 4 years, I haven’t submitted any poems for publication. I haven’t scheduled poetry time like I schedule meal time. I haven’t relaxed enough, or trusted my instincts, to produce daily—even if what I produce is shit.
Adrian Blevins, who wrote The Brass Girl Brouhaha, has this to say about her process:
“I don’t discount revisions, but the writing is smarter than you are.”
I mother my poetry. I cut it very little slack. I say to it “Here are the car keys. But tell me where you’re going, who you’re going with, what time you’ll be back. Don’t drive with your foot out the window. Don’t speed. Don’t do dougnuts in the Dairy Queen parking lot.”
In 1964, Frank O’hara came out with Lunch Poems. Here’s how Poets.Org describes that volume:
Along with his earlier volume, Meditations in an Emergency, his 1964 book Lunch Poems is considered to be his freshest and most accomplished collection. The title refers to both O’Hara’s capacity to write the poems while sitting in Times Square during his lunch hour, as well as the ease in which a reader could take the pocket-sized volume along and read it during his own lunch hour.
Click here to read “Lana Turner Has Collapsed!”, one of my favorites.
So for the next two weeks, in an attempt to let the writing be smarter than me, I’m initiating the Trybecca Lunch Poem Project. I’ll write and post a new poem (written at lunch in the park under the Manhattan Bridge) every work day. I’ll probably also give a brief discription of what I ate.
Tomorrow, I’m accompanying one of our camps on their fieldtrip to Poet’s House , where I get to read some of my work to highschool girls.
This doesn’t count as a Lunch Poem but I did write it last weekend:
You entered like a nurse,
gently slid my head from its pillow.
I dreamed you carried a purse
of stitched camellias pink
as the ones my mother cut
and rinsed at the kitchen sink.
Incentive to grow older
was tooth turned silver,
money for molder—
when loss was merely awe,
when from under the museum whale
we sketched its maw.
Say a woman must let go
a root part. What is
her reward? I know
no fairies beat above her rest
their wings and yet—
a coin, a coin for each breast.