Dreams and Dissertations, Poetry and Prose, Inspiration and an Eaglet Named Hope

by Marisa PC

A week or so ago, I dreamed that I attended a combo pool party and poetry reading, which featured Dana Levin and Jessica Helen Lopez. In the dream, both poets read, and then we ended up talking in the pool. It was nighttime, the pool was lit from beneath the water’s surface, the colors of the dream were turquoise and muted gold and night sky, but those details are merely atmospheric. The happiness I felt upon waking told me the importance of the dream: that I should partake of more poetry.

An interesting message, given that I’ve been doing just that. I’ve recently read Dana’s Banana Palace, Bonnie Arning’s Escape Velocity, Mark Doty’s Paragon Park, and I’ve started Jennifer Givhan’s Protection Spell. Classic poems by W. H. Auden and e.e. cummings have echoed in me, soothing and stirring me during these difficult political times, while Lisa D. Chavez’s “In an Angry Season” and some of Jericho Brown’s more recent work does the same. And since the presidential election, I’ve attended nearly a dozen readings, maybe more, and found myself grateful to hear the work of up-and-coming poets I’m lucky to know, poets like Crystal Zanders and Colby Gates.

I’ve kind of been wanting to try my hand at poetry again, even though I know this “hand” to be prose-laden, too literal, leaden. This morning I drank my coffee and read poetry and had an eagle-cam streaming online, and I scribbled three poem portions. And look, I don’t know whether they’ll be poems. They’re really just scribbles right now, but isn’t that the way we start?

The poetry I was reading this morning? It was MFA student Aaron Reeder’s dissertation, From the Kingdom of the Lost. I’m on Aaron’s committee, and I started reading it last night. I prefer to read poetry dissertations twice—once to get a sense of what the manuscript as a whole is trying to do and another time to see how the individual poems are puzzled together to achieve that end. But as I read Aaron’s work, I could already see the book in the manuscript; that is, I understood that I was reading a fully realized poetry collection. It had me in its grip, tightly, tenderly. I was a passenger brought along on an emotional journey, and near the manuscript’s end, I suddenly found myself in tears. Big, drippy tears.

I used to cry all the time over the least little thing. Now I’m crotchety and crusty and cranky, and I don’t cry so easily, so the fact that Aaron’s work had me in big, drippy tears speaks for the level of his accomplishment. Once I’d finished my reading and my crying and my coffee, I walked the dogs, and when I got home, I scribbled some scribbles that I like to pretend may go toward poems.

This is where I admit, as we approach the end of the Writer’s March, that I’ve done little else. I haven’t come close to achieving the goals I set four weeks ago. But I’ve submitted some finished pieces, gotten a positive rejection from a top-tier literary journal, done a couple of line-edit-level revisions, toted around notes for a novel in hopes of working on it, dashed off some notes and done some reading for another piece I’d like to work on, and oh yeah, scribbled some pretend-poetry scribbles that maybe just maybe someday will grow up to be prosy little poems.

No matter my lack of complete success with the Writer’s March, I’m exiting this month with renewed inspiration and determination. Some of that has come from my participation here, but most of it has come from working with the four MFA students whose dissertations I’m lucky to be reading. These MFA students, they are ending this month (whether or not they’ve participated in the March) by meeting a huge goal: the completion of their dissertations. Each of these students has constructed a book-length work. Aaron’s is a poetry collection. (Look for it soon!) And I’m also working with a fiction writer and two creative nonfiction writers.

Celia Laskey, the fiction writer, has put together a novel in stories called Under the Rainbow. Last summer on a hunch that it would be good, I volunteered to read it. I was right: It was good. In fact, it was better than I’d expected. Truth be told, I offered to read Celia’s manuscript because of its subject: An LGBTQ task force moves to a town voted the most homophobic city in America with the intention of creating opportunities for education and inclusivity. Each story is told from the point of view of a townsperson (the majority of them straight and terrifically conservative) or a task force member. I well remembered my time as a student in fiction workshops and how distressing it could be to have readers who just didn’t get my queer themes and characters. I hoped to be a good reader for Celia and a sounding board as she worked through her revisions. As usually occurs when I read another writer’s work in progress, I became involved in the storylines and found myself caring deeply about the characters, queer and straight alike. And beyond that, I found myself studying Celia’s manner of storytelling—how she manages to employ first-person POV and show each of her characters fully and actively, revealing not only how they appear to other people but also what their inner lives and most private hopes and disappointments are. I can’t wait for the day I hold a published copy of Celia’s book.

I finished Cat Hubka’s manuscript, The Price of Admission, just yesterday morning and am blown away. I’ve known Cat for a number of years now; I worked with her when she was an undergraduate. As I turned the pages of her memoir, I saw how she’d incorporated the work we’d done together with all the work—so much work!—she’s done since. At the end of our first semester together, Cat met with me. She talked with me about one of her four sons, Mike, who died in his late teens. In our meeting, she told me she loved him and wanted to write about him. Though he is not the focus of Cat’s dissertation, Mike is threaded through its pages, as are her other sons, as are a number of other people who have played important roles in her journey into and through the early years of her sobriety. Because I have known and worked with Cat for a while now, I knew portions of her story, but reading her work allowed me insight into many aspects of her life that I hadn’t guessed at. I feel such tenderness for my friend, even at the parts she may refer to as “assholery,” and I feel pride in seeing that she has something original, compelling, and sometimes startling to include among recovery narratives.

Tomorrow I receive Ana June’s manuscript. I don’t know its title yet, and I don’t know how she has navigated the stories from her life that she may tell in it. In our conversations about writing, Ana has spoken of connections between the physical health of the body–specifically the woman’s body–and the assault on the environment, so perhaps these themes will be woven through her work. And as with the other MFA students whose work I’ve been reading, I’m sure I’ll be engaged, amazed, and inspired.

It’s very late—early, actually—and I’d like to bring these musings around to a point, but I’m not sure I’m going to succeed at that. Obviously, I’m not going to succeed at fulfilling my Writer’s March goals, either. But I want to thank all of you who have written for the blog, especially founder Sam Ocena, and I want to congratulate those of you who have accomplished some or all of your writing goals for the month. I am inspired by you, as I am by the MFA students whose committees I have the honor of serving on, and that inspiration is energizing. I’m going to go forward from this time and partake of more poetry—and more prose too. Best of luck to you as you end the March and the month of March. Here’s a video of an eaglet named Hope fledging—that is, flying from the nest for the first time earlier this month. May we all fly on strong wings. May we lift one another up.

video from American Eagle Foundation, Northeast Florida webcam, 2 March 2017

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