Three Poems for Turning 26

Blog

A week before I turned twenty-six a high school friend came to visit. It was a whirlwind, impromptu, just-here-for-a-few-hours type of visit. “I am passing through but I need to see you.” She texted, and it felt like a breeze on an August night: sweet at sad all at once. We crowded into a tiny restaurant, the kind with “vintage” orange light bulbs and one long table for everyone to sit at, and traded stories about work and travel and the people we were getting to know, when she asked me if Portland felt like home.

I don’t know if any place has ever felt like home to me, but Sitka came close. The dramatic shifts in light, the ambiguous line between night and day, the rhythm of the salmon life cycle and herring season, the community’s pulse in the coffee shops and contra dances… felt close to being home. But I am not sure Sitka needs another white face on its shores, which makes me hesitant to claim it as a home. It’s a privilege to have a connection to it, but a home? I’m not sure.

When I laid down for sleep on the eve of my birthday, I thought again about her question. Does this feel like home? The Willamette, Mt. Hood, Burnside Street, and my tiny house all feel like something, but I don’t know what yet. Remembering the blue of her eyes and the grip of her hugs, I wondered if I don’t feel at home in places so much as in people. Richard Siken tells us in Detail of the Woods that: “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” and I wonder what the means for me.

Then like smooth stones sliding under a strong current, I felt a space slide open inside of my body. I felt room, like the kind of space yogi’s tell you to breathe into when you’re flopping all over the mat, tired and awkward after a long day of sitting and thinking. And it scared me to have this space all of a sudden. When I woke up, I was twenty-six and the space was still there. I walked up the hilly streets of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle and tried to relish in the cold morning air, feast my eyes of green leaves and houses with big, clear windows. Trying not to feel the saccharine and sad edges of this very old and very new space inside of me when Kenneth Koch’s poem To My Twenties, came to mind. Specifically the lines:

You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.

I’ve defined and redefined home five geographical times in the past six years and if we’re counting people as home, just double that number. It’s too difficult to actually count. I have tried to never, ever been stingy with my dreams or the people I love. I have tried to give whole without emptying completely. I have not always been successful and have redefined success just as much as home. I don’t feel lost so much as in media res which feels better if not slightly more difficult. I don’t know what to call all of these feelings or spaces or transitions, but I found someone who does, Ross Gay in his poem, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude. There is so much here, but don’t be intimidated by a fourteen-minute long poem. Gay’s performance will hold you. He weaves an earth-based euphoria with pedestrian moments, existential sadness, hyper self-awareness, and the two-sided coin of gratitude in a way that undulates between excitement and palliative calm. It feels perfect for twenty-six.

What do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.

P.S. I just wrote the cover story interview featuring four Connecticut artists for a magazine called The Perpetual You!

Billy Collins at the Hill-Stead Museum

Blog

I imagine that my face must have burned when my seventh grade Language Arts teacher called me to her desk the afternoon she gave me the poetry project. I remember how my mind would reel in situations like that: What trouble could I be in? I know I handed in my assignment… I wasn’t talking when she was talking… Maybe my mom is coming to get me early?

The poetry project was a thick packet of instructions for me to work through when everyone else was doing something else. I went to another classroom with another teacher and… I got to work on one of the beautiful, new, Mac computers all by myself!!!

I must have come across poetry before, but this was the first time I spent quality time with it, just me and the words. I remember one of the tasks was to look at certain poets and illustrate their poems however I wanted. I used a bunch of different fonts to make This is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams, pop off the page. Plums took on a round, purple font and the word icebox was barely legible in its gray frostbitten lettering. Poems that were more than a few lines quickly lost my interest making anything Emily Dickinson wrote a favorite back then. Eventually, the packet instructed me to write poems myself, based off of paintings that interested me. I remember Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath was one of them because that mom looked like mine.

My interest in poetry ebbed and flowed in the years after that. The poetry I read was usually required for a class. I’d write sporadically throughout high school and then only in letters to friends during college. I found out about Billy Collins through my modern dance class of all places, when my teacher had us work with Instructions to a Portrait Artist.

The class had been a struggle for me. I had a shaky sense of self-confidence which translated into lacking a kind of natural connection to my body. Basically, I thought about what I was doing too much. When I heard Collins’ poem I felt like this was one exploration I could do well. I understood words more than music and just knowing that was true about me made me forget to focus on how I looked to my class of ex-ballerinas. It changed my focus. In fact, that might be the best way to explain why I love Billy Collins’ poetry: it shifts your focus to the little things and grounds you.  

The two-term US Poet Laureate is regularly referred to as the most popular poets in America. Even if you think you haven’t heard of him, you probably have. You can watch him on TED or read him on New York Subways. If you’re a dog lover, a traveler, a parent, or kid there’s a poem of his for you. His poems are referred to with adjectives such as, “welcoming”, “suburban”, “conversational”, and “tender”. This isn’t inaccessible, high-brow stuff. It’s your kitchen table, the blooming hydrangeas, and a quick witted joke.

To borrow a quote from the New York Times Mary Jo Salter:

“One appeal of the typical Collins poem is that it’s less able to help you memorize it than to help you to remember, for a little while anyway, your own life.”

When I found out Billy Collins was coming to The Sunken Garden at the Hill-Stead Museum, I knew had to see him. It was the back of his head that I saw first. That unmistakable U-shaped pattern of baldness and then fuzzy, koala-like gray was hair making its way to the stage. That’s Billy! I thought with a thrill. There is something about New Yorkers of a certain age that stands out. There’s an urbanity to it that I notice the more time I spend in the city and the more people I meet. Billy has this thing, this quality. He’s also smaller than I imagined, slighter. Not sickly- but for a voice so rich, for words so far reaching- his body felt small. This was comforting to me actually. It meant that Billy was a real person and that I was a real person and we could share the same space and vocabulary. We could both be in the world making things with words. Looking at him, my dreams didn’t seem so unrealistic.

It had stopped raining right before my friend Tyler and I parked our lawn chairs between a couple of carefully manicured bushes. That “just rained” smell hung in the air. It was the first day of summer too and the sun was in its golden hour. Beautiful old pine trees dotted the perimeter of the garden and the sky was so perfectly blue and open. It felt so special, to say the least. To be outside and with words and with people who felt the same way about poetry. I hadn’t read or heard any of the poems Billy read but I came out with a few favorites I wanted to share with you. Many of them have audio, which I recommend you listening to, he’s quite the reader.

You, Reader

The prelude to this poem is gold. How he talks about his growth as a person and writer is so where I’m at: “I found out that these things had been said much better. Then I realized I had nothing to say and my poetry improved.” The whole poem plays on this theme of development, paying attention, and looking at how to take an opportunity.

Basho in Ireland

“The sense of being homesick for a place that is not my home, while being right in the middle of it.” I wonder if there is a name for this phenomenon. I think feel something similar whenever I visit my high school. Have you ever felt this way?  

I Am Not Italian

I am Italian-American and whenever anything Italian is mentioned, my ears always perk up in excitement and skepticism. Ask other Italian people, I am sure it is the same for them. You want to share that feeling of famiglia wherever you can and with whoever you can, but you’re protective of it too. Billy not being Italian but talking so elegantly about Italy in many of his poems only endears me to him more; la fratellanza dell’espresso.

To My Favorite Seventeen-Year-Old High School Girl

It’s always good to remember that poems can just be funny. Not in a rhyming, limerick-y way either, but in the “Dad joke” kind of way. My favorite line comes at the end, “By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes. But that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.” I can imagine myself playfully reprimanding my own kid with this poem. And the subsequent eye roll. And the attempts to rip the poem off the fridge so I stop reading it to them.

Divorce

I love this poem’s simplicity. How. Every. Word. Counts. Without the title how would this poem feel? What other sense would it make?

The Revenant

When I read this poem, I imagine Frank Underwood speaking. I think the way his voice can remain so even tempered while still somehow intimately snarling at you, is just what this poem is doing.

Nostalgia

He closed the night with Nostalgia which felt fitting to include as the final poem here too. It has Billy’s characteristic humor; “It was a wonderful time to be alive. Or even dead”, while ending on a palatable but still existential meditation on past, present, and future.

It feels so good to be in the company of these words, doesn’t it?

Let me know what some of your favorite poems are, I’m always looking for more poetry to read!

Happy National Poetry Month!

Blog

Happy National Poetry Month y’all!

To celebrate, I’m going to post a poem to my Instagram every day.  For the first two days, I experimented with blackout poetry because I just read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist (which I can’t recommend more highly) and that got me into his newspaper blackout poetry. Today’s poem comes straight from my heart and my typewriter.

Follow @blisters_before_misters on Instagram to see more as the month progresses!

Three Poems Featured in Olentangy Review

Blog, Poetry, Published Work

I’m happy to share that Olentangy Review, a wonderful literary website and quarterly magazine, is including three of my poems, Meet Me in MissoulaMaking a Commitment, and November Nineth in it’s Winter 2016 edition. Read the poems here and listen to the audio here!

Thank you editors, Darryl and Melissa Price for this opportunity!