I used to think Emily Dickinson lived a beautiful life, shut away in her room, writing poetry, secluded, solitary, reclusive. As a teenager, I thought, What a great way to live! For most my life I believed that. I envied it.
But, now I think she had a sad life. (With the exception of her devotion to poetry, and letters to family and friends.)
She is a great American poet, who created a unique style. Emily Dickinson was inherently a poet. She wasn’t/isn’t a poet because she wrote poetry, she wrote poetry because she was a poet–didn’t write to be, but wrote because she was.
Dickinson sent poems to Higginson, who was an editor for the Atlantic. She wanted to be published. He told her she wasn’t ready. But he was intrigued by her, and they stayed in touch for the rest of her life. (She was 32 when she sent him her first poems.) He helped publish her after she died, but he “corrected” her work, using conventional rules of writing. She’s most famous for using dashes for punctuation and capitalizing words unexpectedly. It didn’t dawn on him that she knew what she was doing. 😕
Getting published was not as important to Dickinson as creating her art. She didn’t “write for the market”. Of course she wanted to be published, but not getting published didn’t make her give up writing.
Nothing wrong with writing for the market. Hell, if you can make a few bucks, or a few million–like Danielle Steel, Sydney Sheldon, Paul McMullan–well, cool. But that isn’t creating art.
I was invited to feature at Voz Sin Tinta earlier this month. I hadn’t stepped up to the mic in several months, and I was nervous about it. I even felt a little sick a few hours before the reading. My insecurity had kicked in. But, in the end, the reading went well. One gal said to me, “You fucking rock!” 🙂
I do think my poetry rocks. Until insecurity kicks in. Then doubt kicks my ass.
This guy came up to me, after the reading, and he hugged me. He told me I was the only one there he was interested in hearing. Then he asked me if there was anyone like that in my life, and he seemed concerned. I had read You Make Me Sick (which I posted on my blog a couple months ago). When I read the first line, “Since you’re gone,/I feel free of fear,” I heard a few groans, and after I read the line, “This is how it feels/to be safe,” I heard the groans again. It felt and sounded like pity groans. 😦 I reassured the guy that it’s a muse, that there is no one like that in my life. (Not anymore.)
“So, it isn’t personal experience?” he asked. I said, “Well, some of it, but not all of it.”
My poetry isn’t 100 percent autobiography. I embellish, I exaggerate, and I invent. So, it isn’t about me. It’s a speaker who could be anybody. It’s art–art is a manifestation of the spirit of humanity, a representation of the human condition.
I’ve been watching videos of poetry readings at this cafe where I wanted to read. It has history. Some of the people who go up to the open mic look like home is some underpass somewhere. There’s a woman who shows up, and I happen to know she’s a delusional, manipulative, homeless nutcase. (I don’t want to expound. Let’s just leave it at that.) My heart sank when I realized she shows up regularly. She isn’t a writer herself; she reads out of a book, a poem written by someone else. Which is fine. I got no beef with that. Sometimes people do that. My issue is her. I don’t want to be where she is. When I realized she was following me around, I got creeped out, not to mention annoyed. I wonder if she heard me say I wanted to read there. Maybe she did, or maybe it’s just coincidence she goes there. I don’t know. But I don’t want to be where she is. I run into some of the poets who read there, poets I like. One of them looks like he’s a card short, but he writes some of the best poetry I’ve heard. He’s brilliant, really. But some of those people who read at this place aren’t poets. They’re playing the part, and they write trivial, trite, drivel. (Of course, this is my opinion. BUT, I know what I’m talking about.) I changed my mind about reading there. If an opportunity came up, I wouldn’t turn it down, but I’m not going there of my own volition.
I have sometimes tried watching poetry readings from UC Berkeley (UCTV). I’ve never lasted more than thirty seconds to a couple minutes. Time and time again, I’ve found them boring and pompous. I tried to enjoy this one poet, a poet older than I am, who’s “somebody”. I won’t name him. But he bored me too. I made myself listen for a couple minutes, because I knew him. (I met him many years ago.) He was so happy to be there at the podium, so proud of himself, all beaming and enthusiastic. He said he heard squirrels running on his roof, and so he wrote this poem. I thought, I’ll bet they were roof rats. I’ve heard roof rats, but I’ve never heard squirrels. That’s when I lived in Berkeley, in the early nineties. The landlord told me they were not squirrels, they were roof rats. He set out some d-Con, and sure enough a few days later I found a dead rat the balcony. I’m convinced this man heard rats running across his roof, and he wrote a sentimental poem about squirrels. Ha, 😀 that’s funny.
It isn’t easy to define art, what is art and what isn’t, because it’s subjective. I might hate what someone else loves, and vice versa. That’s just the way it goes.
I love and hate the poetry scene. Love it. Hate it. But I love poetry. And there are poets out there I like very much. And, hell, shit yeah I like getting positive feedback. I love that. ❤ It’s encouraging.
I want to be published. There was a time it didn’t matter, but now it does. I will continue to write. I love it. But it isn’t enough. I want to be published. I have to find my way there.
I have another reading in May:
Adobe Books, 24th Street, Thurs, May 14, 6:30 – 7:30.
I will be one of four featured readers. I’m looking forward to it.