On Tuesday I took three students from ASU to a Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School’s Celebration of Writing event. The CoW is a three-day annual series of appearances and readings by local writers (I think local writers) at this very small, very arts-positive school. The students I took are all in their last semester of the MFA program and are all wonderful writers and people I enjoy very much: playwright Carlos Chavarria, fiction writer Caitlin Horrocks, and poet Diana Park. You will continue to hear their names.
We did a brief Q&A with the high school creative writing class, who asked us questions like, “Is it important to listen to feedback from other writers, or is it okay to stick with your first draft?” Or, what starts a poem for us. We all come to writing from very different experiences and backgrounds, so our discussion was interesting.
The reading was great. Each of the ASU students read from their work and they were all fastastic. I read some selections from Living Things and was sort of embarrassed to get choked up a few times. This is the problem with the book. It holds too much. A poet friend of mine who also wrote about a grief experience (I don’t know if he’d want me to reveal his identity here, so I’m holding it back for now), told me he was eager to stop reading his grief poems because it was like experiencing the loss all over again. I’m starting to understand this.
The poem that always gets me? “The Cat.” It has this really “naked” moment in it where the speaker, after describing how he finds a cat meowing on his parked car’s engine, comes to realize that there was nothing he could have done. And the tone of the poem, for me, becomes deeply personal and revealing. It was a risk I was taking in these poems to step out of the lyric moment and into a blank utterance.
I tell you if it weren’t for dramatic pauses in that poem, I wouldn’t make it. I take those three seconds, collect myself, and finish the poem.