Warning: this isn't a proper blog post. It's not something from a real professional writer, the kind who has something profound to say after spending the last week and a half soaking up the brilliance of the likes of Leslie Adrienne Miller, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and guest speaker Charles Johnson. I'm not pretending to be that person. I'm seeking the essential me-ness
, so this is a blog post from the real me. This is a blog post about kittens. As we near the end of the Pacific University MFA residency,
I'm trying to decide on a defining moment for this experience. And it's not the moment when Joseph Millar, Dorianne Laux and Ellen Bass shared what they learned from reading Lucille Clifton. It's not when Kwame Dawes read his poems, or when he read the work of Audre Lorde and Langston Hughes, two poets whose words
are tattooed on my body
. It's not
even when Marvin Bell used one of my poems to illustrate the points he made about poetic strategies.
These were all incredible moments that will remain with me, undoubtedly, but if I had to choose just one moment of all of those that are sticking out in my mind, this would be it: Standing on the corner of the farmer's market in Forest Grove, holding in my arms one of the kittens from the free kitten box I've just come across, as Ellen Bass rubs his tiny head and we giggle over his absurd adorableness. I know, I'm ridiculous. That moment had nothing to do with the residency. But to me, in a way, it had everything to do with why I choose to be here. I choose this moment not simply because
I'm crazy about animals, although it's true that I am, and not just because I have immense admiration for Ellen Bass, though that's true, too. I choose this moment because Ellen and I weren't standing apart as student and teacher, or as emerging poet and established poet. We stood together, no expectations between us, just united by our appreciation for cute creatures, a real, down-to-earth, essential part of who we are, not just as poets or lovers of the written word, but as people.These are the moments that make my MFA experience so unforgettable. I am just deliciously delighted to say that Ellen Bass is my advisor for this
semester, which means that from now until January, I'll be working with her one on one to craft an essay and continue to grow in my poetry. I just adore Ellen, as a person and as a poet. She writes the loveliest poems about some of the subjects I care about most, including love between women, healing from trauma, and spirituality. And I've already worked with her in workshop so I know that she "gets" me, and really supports my poetic vision. And kittens. She also shares my love of kittens. She understood my longing
as I reluctantly faced the truth that the kitten in my arms couldn't come home with me. But before I put him down, we all shared a moment - Ellen, the nameless black kitten, and I. And though it may seem silly, in that moment I knew that Ellen Bass understood an essential part of me. Watch this clip of Ellen reading her sweet, funny poem
"Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh." You can visit her website
I’m tuning in live from the Pacific University MFA residency in Forest Grove, Oregon. We’ve reached that point in the residency when I’m not quite sure what day, or hour or, well, universe I’m in, but I’m having a good time and learning a lot, so I’ve given up on trying to stay grounded and I’m just floating along. The good news is I’ll be more grounded once I leave here. I’m reminded of all of the rewarding reasons I entered this program, so I’m really thankful for my time here.
To put this gratitude in perspective: when this semester began, I was freaking out. I wish I could use my writerly skills to describe it more eloquently, but that about captures it. I was freaking out, as in, I wasn’t sure where I was heading or why, that kind of feeling like you’re rushing forward, only everything is dark, so you’re not sure where you’re going. I was freaking out, as in, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be writing, was struggling to recall why I’d embarked on this wild quest to get an MFA in Poetry, of all things, when it’s hard enough to make a living as a poet, and harder still when you’re a crazy person who writes things barely recognizable as poetry, like I happen to be.
Marvin Bell tells the class of 2011
to "write with abandon"
With a deadline looming, I was honest with my advisor, Marvin Bell, about my freaking out. It’s nice to say I could be honest with him, but the truth is, I had to be honest, because I felt frozen, unable to write anything without a crippling sense of self-doubt paralyzing my mind. There I was, lucky enough to have the prolific poet Marvin Bell as my mentor, and all I could do was wonder if I belonged here, or if I was forging my way through a path that was never meant for me.
Marvin’s response was so sweet. He was gentle, generous, and silly with me, reminding me to have fun, because when I’m writing, I’m doing something I love. He told me, in much more eloquent words, to stop freaking out, to stop worrying about what others expect of me (himself included), and to simply be who I was born to be. Me.
These ideas have been coming up at the residency, so those who have brought it up have unwittingly continued to confirm that I know what’s best for me. From Dorianne Laux’s insights on childhood memories as moments that define us as people and as poets to Kwame Dawes’s words on the personal necessity for political poetry, every piece of advice from the past week has had its limit. That is, every faculty member here acknowledges that their guidance can only go so far, and it’s up to us, the writers, to let their words reach their fullest potential in our own work.
In other words, what I’m after is not something Marvin Bell or Kwame Dawes can give me. I’m seeking the essential core of my me-ness. Expressing what it truly means to be uniquely me means being the best poet that I (and only I) can be.