Friday, February 26, 2010

I Coulda Been a Contender?

It's depressing that I haven't written poetry in a long time. I'm not trying to brag, but I used to be quite good. I started writing it when I was in eighth grade, and the craft eventually overtook my life until I graduated from college. Then, I slowly withdrew.

Back at Iowa, I was accepted into the Undergraduate Writers' Workshop in Poetry several times, and I made some of the most lasting memories there. I met many of my heroes of contemporary poetry, and created some work of which I'm still proud. Two of my favorite professors told me they thought I had some talent and encouraged me to apply to the graduate workshop. I knew that the chances of getting in there were slim, even though I knew much of the faculty, but with writers I admired urging me to go for it, I did. I was rejected. I never re-applied or sought acceptance into any other graduate creative writing program.

Sure, I continued to write poetry, and I even had a great group of writing friends in Des Moines who constantly inspired me to keep going. Again, I wrote some of my favorite poems during this post-college phase of my life, but somewhere between the Des Moines of 1999 and L.A. from 2000-present, I just lost my touch or my muse or my words. Whatever you want to call it, that's what I let slip away.

In some ways I'm glad I let it go. Poetry was beginning to consume many aspects of my life. It would come at the oddest moments, and it was hard to explain to a dinner companion or customer at the cosmetics counter why I had to dig around frantically to find a scrap of paper and a pen. Every piece of conversation, every book I read or movie I watched became fodder for poetry, and it was exhausting.

But, lately, the thought of what I've lost has made me sad. I've seen some of my dear friends from the workshop days go on to publish incredible things. Rosemary Griggs wrote a beautiful book of poems, Josh Ferris was a National Book Award finalist for his first novel, and I eagerly await Julia Story's first book of poetry. I actually remember Josh telling me and Julie Story one night at dinner that he thought we were the "stars" of the workshop. Well, they are all stars now, but I'm just burned out.

What is important about poetry to me, though? Sure, I'd like to be published. Who wouldn't like recognition for their creativity? But another part of me remembers that I never started writing poetry to become famous. I started writing because I liked the way the words sounded. I wrote the things that I, myself, would like to read. Where have my words gone? Is it that now I am "settled" that I have nothing more about which to write? I always wrote the best material in periods of heartbreak and depression. Maybe married life and medication have dulled the ache to write. Even when I try, I feel I can't write anymore. I never re-applied to the workshop or applied anywhere else. I have submitted a couple of poems to journals, websites here and there, but the only writing credits I can list are being footnotes in a couple of books about Elvis (thanks, Peter Nazareth) and a credit for comparing John Ashbery to William Carlos Williams in a poetry book (thanks, David Hamilton). I even tried to share my poetry when I was accepted into the UCLA Writing Project a couple of summers ago. While the writing coach had positive, encouraging things to say, the other members often said they just didn't "get" what I was trying to write, so they couldn't give me feedback.

I have observed, too, that the California style of writing is much different than the Iowa style. I remember delving into Robert Creeley, John Ashbery, and Charles Wright with zeal. Here, everything is narrative and multicultural, and a friend and published poet Amy Uyematsu told me that she has observed that it's much easier to get published here if you've got an angle--preferably a multicultural one. She even experienced backlash when her second book of poetry strayed from the Japanese themes of her first book.

I don't know what I'm looking for. My family says that I should write again to help with my feelings of isolation, but without a community, I feel more isolation. I need to figure out first if I even want to write poetry anymore. I mean, just because we used to be good at something doesn't mean we will always be--or even that we have to be.


Churlita said...

You could use your blog for that. I do that on mine sometimes when I don't want to feel like I'm writing in a vacuum. I don't know if I'll ever submit my stuff anywhere, but I'm always going to write and I'm not much of a joiner, so groups or workshops may never happen for me.

Marcy said...

I have to agree with the previous comment. Remember the reasons you wrote during your writing days. You mentioned that you liked the way the words sounded. What better place to see those words take shape than a venue in which you can share them with others around you? Yet at the same it is your turf, you get to decide who sees what you put out there. You choose what feedback to show to the world and when and where to put your words on display. I also think it possible that you may find a new community that will appreciate your writing and style. Whatever you do, I hope you only write what and when and how you desire and enjoy every minute of it.

Anonymous said...

Julie- I've always encouraged your writing because I used to read yours back in Iowa City and loved it!! I am embarassed by the fact that I have very limited recall in quoting books, authors, or just being able to converse about a book I've read in the past and really enjoyed, otherwise I would recall your poetry lines now! The way you describe writing sounds the same way many artists describe doing their comes in spurts, its unpredictable and inconsistent. When the urge hits you, write! When it doesn't, don't. The cool thing is you are in a position to share it with your students and encourage them to write poetry as well. Many poets/writers would love to have the venue of impressionable young people to inspire and encourage with poetry....
You can also send me poems...I'd love it!!!!!!!!