This is my third semester in college and it quite a doozy (did I really just use that word?). I haven’t considered myself a poet in a long time and one of my classes is a poetry class with the final project being a chapbook. I have wanted to create a chapbook for a long ass time but always felt a little bit at a loss as to how to even start. Where to even begin. So I am grateful that this class will give me some structure, guidance and hard deadlines to just do it.
Entering my fourth week of the poetry class I have found myself struggling with how to translate my thoughts to poetry. It’s not that I’m reaching for new ideas but rather how to bring back up to the surface some ideas that have settled in my belly (no other way to really describe where those feelings sit). Some of the themes that have found a deep home in me include displacement, cohabitation, and the twin sisters of longing and loss.
My first assignment was to write a series of haikus. I focused on ancestral altars, preparing to ride the bus in a still new to me city, things left behind by those who left, and sort of still lifes from my terrace. I thought they were shit. My instructor, who had a PhD in Puerto Rican studies said he wanted to read them on my terrace with coffee, said they invoked a poetic legacy I was part of. Maybe I could be a poet again. Maybe I never stopped being one.
In New York my poetic life was built on routines centered around readings. Having a reading in my calendar meant I had to have something new to share. Not that I couldn’t share older material but I needed to test, get public feedback on (would the audience laugh, nod their head, or stare blankly) new things. So I would always be working on new things, at night or early in the morning, when the kids were asleep, when I wasn’t chatting with lovers who lived cross borough or cross country.
After living in Los Angeles for 7 years I haven’t found that routine here yet. I haven’t found a poetic home that I feel embraced or safe enough to experiment/test in. I haven’t found a poetic family. And honestly when you’re over 40, a parent, a student, an executive director – the spaces I have found seem so compartmentalized – people see me in one way and crossing into another identity makes me and others uncomfortable in a way I haven’t been able to navigate (yet).
So for now I’m just going to keep writing, in a much more solitary way or through my class (which since it is an online program still can feel pretty solitary) and hope that it will be enough to get me through and keep me disciplined.
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