Fledgling

 

This summer two wrens built a nest in a bright orange begonia that I hung out on my front porch. I spend a lot of time out on my porch during the summer months, especially in the morning. I like to go out first thing, with my cup of coffee and my laptop and write or grade or watch my neighborhood wake up.

I have a great fondness for birds. Anyone who knows me, knows this love to be deep and true. I write about birds. I collect feathers. I own clothing printed with birds/feathers. I grew up with my grandmother and grandfather pulling me towards windows or sliding glass doors, whispering blue jay, cardinal, sparrow & chickadee. Winters my mother trudged through deep drifts of lake effect snow and filled her feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. She’d come inside, cheeks red from cold and exertion, and immediately curse the fox squirrels who hung precariously from her window feeds, gorging themselves on seeds that speckled the snow below.

This week, as always, The Academy of American Poets shared a bunch of wonderful poems as part of their poem-a-day project.  Among this recent batch, “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall:

…You take down the hanging basket
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart,
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch, 
you instruct our son who has already begun
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes,
wanting to touch the world.

Read the rest of “Fledgling” here.

This reminded me of my own poem, also titled “Fledgling,” that I wrote the summer my son was born. I drafted the poem while sitting on my couch in my living room, staring out the large window that looks out onto my front porch. I spent much of the first weeks of my son’s life sitting on the couch, holding this tiny baby (who came three weeks early), wrapped in a fuzzy blanket against the chill of the air conditioning. I knew it was white hot summer outside my window, but I couldn’t feel the warmth. One day, while the baby dozed, I caught a tumble of brown feathers our of the corner of my eye: a baby wren. I watched him teeter on the ledge of my porch, eating worms his mother swooped into his gaping throat. He sat on that ledge for quite awhile before he finally gathered the courage to follow his mother, half falling, half flying out of sight. I sat staring for a few minutes after he’d gone and then I shifted my sleeping baby, picked up a pen and my journal and started to write.

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New Madrid Summer 2016

That poem is the only poem I wrote that first summer as a mother. It came quickly and underwent minimal revision before I sent if off into the world. I remember when I got the acceptance from New Madrid I was so happy because, for me, it proved that yes, I could do this. I could keep my poetry and be a mother. Intellectually, I’d known this to be possible, but when you’re in the weeds of no sleep and bottles and crying and diapers and formula, it’s hard to be rational. It’s hard not to be one raw, gaping wound.

It hardly seems possible that it was two years ago (my son turned two this past May) that I sat on my couch, exhausted and freezing, watching a fledgling waiting for his mother to show him how to  fly.

 

National Poetry Month 2017

So I didn’t write 30 poems for National Poetry Month this year. I wrote about 20 and I’m thrilled. As my officemate said to me yesterday morning, that’s more poems than you wrote last April, right? Exactly.

So now I have a  ton of work to revise, which is super because I haven’t send much work out into the world in the last year or so. I’m very much a fits and starts poet. I always have been and probably always will be. I don’t have designated writing times. I don’t have one specific place where I write. I don’t have a specific journal. I have about three journals going right now. This doesn’t include all of the notes I have on my phone. I definitely have a process, but it’s messy and constantly changing and it suits me just fine.

Could I be more prolific if I had a steady routine? Maybe. I used to worry about my routine. I used to worry about whether I was writing “small poems” that anyone would read. I used to worry that I had nothing to say. I used to worry that my point of view wasn’t fresh or sexy or whatever.

I used to worry about my poetry a lot. I still do in the quiet hours of the morning when I wake up at 4 AM and can’t turn my brain off, but then I remember that ultimately, for me, poetry is a selfish exercise. I write poems as way to process the world. Ultimately I keep writing and reading poetry because I want to get better at channeling the human experience into words. That’s what we (poets) are all trying to do, and I think many of us, are trying to do it with love and with great care. We’re not perfect. I’m certainly not, but perfection isn’t really the point anyway, or at least it has never been in my world.

I like the drafts I wrote for National Poetry Month and I was pleased to share some of the prompts with my students during the month of April. Yesterday, during one of my portfolio conferences, a student brought a draft of a poem she wrote from one of our shared prompts. We chatted about it for around 15 minutes and ultimately she decided to include it in her portfolio even though she thinks she’s “terrible at poetry.”

Special shout out to Two Sylvias Press for providing excellent prompts and just being awesome overall.

Also, to all my poet/writer friends, I’m involved in a brand new venture: The Indianapolis Review and we are currently open for submissions of poetry and original artwork. Please check out our website and send us some work. We’d love to read it!

 

PHV: July Stats

I’m a little, OK, a lot late sharing this PHV post. August is always hectic with end of the summer grading but I also took off toward the middle of the month and went home to visit my parents. By the time I got back, it was time to start preparing for the fall semester and today is the last day of the first week.

Farewell summer.

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Lake Erie at the end of summer.

New Madrid Summer 2016

My contributor copies of New Madrid arrived on my doorstep this morning. When the FedEx delivery guy dropped them off on my front porch, I was listening to the NPR segment about Philando Castile. It was raining, my husband and son were on their way to work and daycare and the only sound in my house was the voice of Castile’s girlfriend echoing through the speaker.

When I leaf through my copies of New Madrid, I am reminded, as I’ve been reminded all too often lately, that there are so many people in this world who are making beautiful, meaningful art. There are  so many people who are invested in making the world a better place. There are so many people who love with every fiber of their being.

In this particular journal is the first poem I wrote about my son and I have to believe that for him, for all of my friends children and their friends children and on and on and on that we will all keep tearing, and clawing and fighting.

PHV: April Stats

The end of the semester brought a whirlwind of activity, so this post is a bit late, but still check it out along with the other bloggers.

I took a trip with some fellow faculty and a group of honors students to New Harmony, IN, and I basically used it as a mini writing retreat, so there’s more to come on that front in a few days. The picture below is of the roofless church where I spent some time writing while I was in New Harmony.

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My sister (check out her blog) and I are also going to be writing everyday this summer in a effort to generate drafts, so I’ll be blogging a bit about that experience as well.

It’s summer, folks and I can’t tell you how glad I am that it’s finally here.

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Love

It’s not uncommon for lists of writing advice to pop on my Facebook and/or twitter feed. I follow a lot of writers and they have much wisdom to share. This week’s offering came in a list from Sherman Alexie via Tin House.

Alexie’s poem, Avian Nights, is one of my all time favorites:

The starlings mourn for three nights and three days.

They fly away, only to carry back

Insects like talismans, as if to say

They could bring back the dead with bird magic.

I have a slight obsession with birds and I find Starlings particularly interesting. I wrote a poem, aptly titled Starling, that appeared in The New Plains Review and was recorded by the lovely Katie Woodzick.

Anyway. Back to the Alexie’s list of advice.

There’s a lot of solid common sense mixed with wry humor. For instance, #10: Don’t google search yourself, followed closely by #9: When you’ve finished Google searching yourself, don’t do it again. But when I got to #1 I felt myself nodding and muttering, “yes, I need to do that more:

When you read a piece of writing that you admire, send a note of thanks to the author. Be effusive with your praise. Writing is a lonely business. Do your best to make it a little less lonely.

I read a lot of poetry online and often I find myself saving links or printing poems or sharing the piece on the seemingly endless number of social media platforms that I’m currently trying to juggle (I caved the other day and created a tumblr page. I know. I’ve got a problem). But what I don’t always do is reach out to the author through email or Facebook or Twitter and tell them how much I loved their poem(s).

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Indianapolis Museum of Art

My students and I talk a lot about community as it relates to writing, especially in the context of a workshop. I tell them the importance of being honest and candid in their critiques and feedback to their fellow writers. Writing is extremely personal. Every time a student brings a draft of a poem or a short story or an essay to class, they are bringing a piece of themselves, so while it is important to be candid, it is also important to be kind and respectful.

It’s also vital to praise a piece of writing that knocks the wind right out of you.

I’m not big into New Year’s resolutions and seeing how it’s February, I’m a bit late to the party anyway, but February is the month of love, so what better time to up my efforts and take Alexie’s advice?

One of the best parts of social media and the internet in general is that I have access to so much brilliant work, and guys, there is a lot of brilliant work out there, so the next time you read a poem you love, let the poet know. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business.