Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finding My Happy Place + Manuscript Madness

Friday marked the 9th anniversary of my maternal grandmother's passing but I can still remember October 11, 1999 like it was yesterday. When I think of my life and my family, I tend to regard it as "Before she died" and "After she died" because so much changed with that single event, including my writing. Honestly, I didn’t even know that I was that close to my grandmother—I lived in Cali and she lived down south. I’d been traveling down there to visit her and other members of my family since I was about 2 months old and then, while I slept, she was gone.

I don’t know what to call what I went into when she died. A depression? Sounds way too harsh. I’ll just say I slipped into a little bit of darkness. Yeah, that’s it, darkness. I have a habit (that I’m trying to –scratch that- will break!) of slipping into darkness when bad things happen. I put on a smiley face and go through life looking unscathed but inside it’s all dark.

Anyway, when my grandmother died, poetry became such a release. I was able to pour out my feelings about her death. Things I couldn't say because I was supposed to be "strong" for everybody else. But, at 12, I wasn't strong enough . . . not at 13, not at 14 . . . hell, sometimes not at 21. Soon, I redirected that pain into other topics but they were all so sad and angry. And that’s what my poetry was, for a long time—sad and angry.

I kind of feel like Mary J. Blige—I do sad and angry so well that when I try to write about something else it feels foreign. Heart break, death, anxiety, abuse, deception, rejection—I reworked and twisted those things a million different ways. Didn’t help that I had a lot of hurt come my way to feed that fire—but that’s another blog, lol.

So, what does this have to do with applying to MFAs?

When I look back at the 300+ poems I’ve written since 1999, I feel like I’ve outgrown them. Okay, clearly, I’ve outgrown the really early ones, lol. But, even the more recent work doesn’t feel right. I don’t think they represent my potential and I don’t really want to include any of it in my manuscript (for applications).

In my CW classes this fall, I’ve written a variety of poems. None of them really give off warm and fuzzy feelings but I don’t necessarily want to write “warm and fuzzy” poems—I just want to be able to show that I’m versatile. Like, MJB, I want to show the people (including the MFA readers) that I can do nice and happy just as well as I do sad and angry, lol. I’ve tried, ya’ll, I mean really tried to write poetry that didn’t possess just a tinge of darkness. I can count those poems on just a few fingers and half of them were written about things that glittered like gold but ended up worth no more than a tin can, lol.

I’m the kind of poet that just lets the poem flow and go where it needs to go and say what it needs to say—I don’t force anything on it or start with any real plans. But, sometimes, if I’m writing and I feel myself slipping into a sour tone, I just stop. I know, I know . . . I should just let it flow. But, damn, it gets boring! And, I don’t always want to relive the pain it takes to make the voice real. You know what I mean?


I just wrote a poem about “Autumn.” Easy, right? It starts off nice—pretty colors of sunsets, football games, leaves falling. But, WHAM, suddenly it slips into not so nice stuff—poverty and decay. So, I stopped . . . I bumped that part to the bottom of my word doc and tried to begin that section again. But, nothing worked. So, I conceded and picked up where I left off. My prof and some classmates liked it. For me, it was bittersweet. I was proud of it but mad at it at the same time. I wish I could have written something else, but I don't know what else I could have written.

Oh, the passion of poetry!

It’s not that I am not a happy person because I am. I'm always laughing, smiling, joking around. But, I guess, it’s difficult for me to pull from those good things and inject more positive images into my poetry.

Any thoughts? Suggestions? Similar issues?


  1. I know exactly what you mean! Unfortunately, my best poetry was written during the darkest periods of my life too. (Check out my Mind Song blog if you want to see for yourself) For the most part, though, I try to write a poem (or think one up) when I am experiencing something positive. If I am around someone I love, or just finished doing something that I love to do I try to relive the moment and capture it on paper. Also it doesn't hurt to gain inspiration by checking out other poets. Hope that helps! Your poems are awesome.

  2. what the hell? your blog blows mine out of the water---you've got music and pictures and comments.



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