15 January 2011

Postscript on Retirement, and Hello to the New Year

Two weeks into my "retirement" from being a professional poet, and no retributions yet from the gods, and so I think I'm safe.

I want to add a postscript to my last post, as I've received a couple of very sincere questions from friends and students about what my decision means.  What it means, simply, is that I will not engage in the processes of writing poetry for publication and of trying to publish my poetry.  No more submissions to magazines, anthologies, contests, or publishers.  It also includes refraining from applying for grants based on my poetry or toward the writing of my poetry.  No poetry-based residences, conferences, or sabbaticals.  And no more publishing about the poetry trade.

I may do the occasional local reading or open mic, as a courtesy to my friends or as a performance opportunity.  I may respond to a friend's request for a submission to a magazine or anthology (not that I get many of those anyway, but it happens).  I may, in five to 45 years from now, put together a final "new and selected" volume.

I will continue, however, to work as a teacher and editor of poetry, to support individual magazines (my current favorite, which you should subscribe to, is the Crab Creek Review), and to assist in enriching the life of poetry in my community.   I will continue to consume poetry.  But that's pretty much the extent of it.

My choice here is not whimsical, though I hope I land in some state of whimsy through it.  And I'm looking forward to the New Year, performing as one of the chorus in Agamemnon, participating in another joyful round of ArtPoems, teaching my workshop on performative poetics, constructing transmedial performances, and writing performance pieces for specific actors (I'm just getting started on a collaboration on this last one).  For me, I am realizing it's about my own peace, reconciliation, with disappearing.

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Or, it's something of a delayed appreciation for what took place in a graduate workshop some 30 years ago.  This was during my second semester at Indiana University, and the M.F.A. program was in its second year.  The workshops, thus, were under-enrolled, and the program allowed other graduate students to take the workshop, provided they were "cleared" by the M.F.A. program.  So in this workshop, we had one such student, a visual artist who was putting together her own masters project.  I think she had a miserable time of it, as none of us really talked about anything beyond the poetry biz.

For one workshop, when we were to workshop one of her poems, she came in with 12 lunch paper bags, each half-wadded up, and she was distraught over her failure.  "This really doesn't work unless you found these accidentally--you know, at a bus stop, or under a luncheon counter, or next to a water fountain.  It's a total mess."  We opened our bags, and each contained rusted bottle caps, deflated balloons, and decoder rings, all on a bed of white confetti.  The confetti, cut angle-hair fine, had been the paper she typed her poem on.

Of course, we were angry with her.  Yeah, we got the fact of it as an artwork--we were hep enough to understand her avant-garde gesture--but we thought, even so, we need to see the poem as a poem before she shredded it all up.  The following week, she returned, with that poem typed up for us, and we went on our way with it, giving it a healthy and smart and well-spirited review. 

After that workshop, I talked to her, probably wanting on some level to assuage my own guilt in joining in the mob that bullied her.  As you can imagine, she didn't want to hear anything of that.  But she did ask me, "Do you still have the poem-bag?"

"No."  I couldn't lie to her at that point.  "I threw it away."

And she gave me a kiss.  "Perfect."


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