This last week I’ve been working on a three-part series based on yearbook memories from elementary school and junior high. What I’ve found interesting about the process is this:
Yearbooks are a kind of clear fiction we willingly pretend is true.
We all want our yearbooks to be signed—by everyone, by just the right person, by the cool kids—yet we know that what will be written in our yearbooks is, in large part, untrue.
We know this because we write those same untruths in other yearbooks.
There is a cliché we can deploy for every circumstance and level of friendship or enmity, and these are the same clichés we solicit for the pages of our own yearbooks—the same clichés we read and reread over the months and years that follow. (Hopefully not the decades that follow, however. We tend to reserve that timescale of cliché for Facebook posts.)
How many questions have I begged so far? Memory, fiction, truth, suspension of belief and disbelief. Write on.
[This post appears concurrently at Magical Teaching.]
A manilla envelope in my box: evaluations. I opened it and thumbed through the pages, noticing (and skipping) those which stayed inside predictable boxes: the perfect column of “exceeds expectations,” the zig-zag alternation between 3’s and 4’s intended to suggest real thought, and of course the completely blank. Two evaluations caught my eye, however. Both had single sentences below the same question: Does the instructor exhibit enthusiasm for his subject?
This Thursday is the first meeting of a poetry class I’m teaching at Kilns College. (There is still room if you want to register!) I’m asking my students to buy their books from a local bookstore and bring me a receipt, and so I haven’t announced the titles of the books before the start of class. My hope is that the students will browse the local shop, enjoy it, and purchase more of their books there in the future.
Local books, local bikes, local beer…there are certain products that benefit from the wisdom of local guides and local relationships. Writing poems can feel like an isolated experience, but reading poems in community, just as shopping in community, can, in the words of one of our mystery poets, be described thus:
“…entered / the sound everywhere, gathered like glass, boozy with gold.”
Christian Wiman is awesome. I love his poetry. He was just named a Guggenheim fellow. He took the time to hang out with my MFA alma mater. But a friend sent me the following transcription from a recent interview of his and it got my dander up:
You are filled and then you’re not. A poet is someone who has to exist between those moments. And between those moments you don’t feel like a poet. It’s been two months since I’ve written a poem and I don’t feel at all like a poet. It goes away. You’re just a person going about your life like anyone else. The gift seems not yours. It seems on loan. Whereas with prose you can do that anytime. You can crank that out.
There seem to be two sets of problematic assumptions in this quote. Regarding poetry:
-successful poems come from some source of inspiration outside the poet
-drafting, revising, rewriting—if you’re in between periods of being “filled” these things are of little use
-poets are gifted in a unique way, even from other creative writers (which raises a whole different set of questions)
-prose writers are never “filled” and don’t need to wait for those moments
-prose writers can and should feel like writers all the time
-most alarmingly, you can write successful prose anytime and just crank it out
I haven’t seen this whole interview yet, so hopefully the context clarifies things. However, I can’t imagine telling my beginning poetry students that they should wait to be filled, and if it takes a month or two past the assignment deadline, well, no problem! And I can’t imagine telling my beginning creative nonfiction students that patience and inspiration and and bravery don’t have a role in their prose since they can just crank it out.
Is the poet really such a different animal? How do you read this quote if you make a different sort of art, like music or visual art? I know there are people who will read this who have Christian’s email address. I’d dearly love to hear his thoughts. And I know, I know—I need to watch the whole interview!
UPDATE: Christian Wiman, I can’t quit you
Just when my dander was nice and up, along comes Wiman saying this to Krista Tippett:
It may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order for faith to take new forms.
How could I stay mad at you?