Sunday, June 28, 2020

THE INTRICATE INTERPLAY OF WRITING AND FEEDBACK

Most of my life, I thought that writing was a very solitary activity. And it was, to a great extent.  Once I focused on poetry, I would write and revise, usually on Monday afternoons when I had a babysitter, send out poems to journals and contests, and in the beginning, get them all back with the equivalent of "No, thank you."  I'd had poems published in grade school, high school and college, in the school newsletter or journal, but I never really thought of it as a high calling; I still saw myself with the vocation of writing The Great American Novel.
Just before I got married, I took a poetry workshop at the New School in New York City, where I lived at the time, from poet Colette Inez, and began to see myself as a poet. She told me I could send her poems from time to time and she would comment on them and send them back to me.  Thus began a correspondence of over 40 years, that eventually spanned the continent, when I moved to California. We became friends and she told me at one point that there was only one friend of hers from high school who had written to her longer than I had.  
Her critiques were invaluable, and I almost always made the changes she suggested, although we wrote very different sorts of poetry.  She also would occasionally add a comment such as "I hear echoes of Emily Dickinson here," or "Beautiful!" and those made my day.  
I had other friends who lifted me up with their thoughts on my poetry. One friend, who died unexpectedly recently, told me several times that she saved and treasured all the poems I had ever sent her.  My daughter Mary at one point gave me some very specific compliments on several of my poems that she had been reading and re-reading. And she has now metamorphosed into my chief commenter and critic of the chapbook that I have been working on for two years.  She often sounds hesitant when she tells me I need to write another poem to cover a certain period of my life or that I need to reflect on, journal and pray about aspects of the background of my poem, as well as re-reading Song of Songs and the Gospels in order to throw more light on what I am writing about.  But she doesn't back down when the rebel in me starts to complain, and we both know that I want this to be in alignment with my deepest calling. Not for nothing was she called "The Hammer" at the last place she worked.  However, when I am tempted to see her as whanging away at me just when I thought I was almost finished, instead I think of her as the hammer that Michelangelo used to release David from the block of marble where he was imprisoned, the hammer that will carve out a "Portal of Light." Or, as I wrote at the end of a much earlier poem, "California Passages,"

I do not seem

a prisoner of this brown house, these days

of subtle routine chains,

riveted to a window view

--clock time framed--


distilled, restrained,

sparse slices of seasons,

like flint to flame:


one intense vision

held at bay.


Birds paying morning calls

light the blowtorch of sunrise

etch arches 

in these stuccoed walls


I fly free.


My daughter, with her deft touch, is etching arches with the blowtorch of her brilliance and persistence so I can fly free into the vision I dream.

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