From the Archives
(March 2005) Sunday night. I pulled out clay yesterday but never got around to sculpting anything. Have been wanting to shape something with my hands, which is a very different creative process than painting or drawing, less cerebral.
There’s something very satisfying about digging your hands down into your medium, getting them dirty, something very sensuous about molding a human form accurately out of clay.
Shaping it with your hands really makes you think about the hollows and curves of the human body, makes you pay attention. Tactile.
Or maybe this is just sexual frustration....
Guess I won’t get to experience this sensuous pleasure for a couple more weeks though, since I’m off to the lowlands soon and the process is really not very satisfying if you can’t complete at least the basic form in your initial sitting.
A sculpture is like a poem that way. I fine-tune poems to the nth degree after writing them and am always walking around with them in my head, trying to find a more precise word or phrase or image that will make them a little cleaner, a little tighter, that might scan a little better while providing deeper meaning, better music, nuance. Whatever.
I edit them on an ongoing basis, but really have to get the whole poem down on paper in my initial sitting or it’s lost.
Got up at 6 this morning and worked for nearly 7 hours on the second edition of my completely subjective compilation of poems that I think are good. The book is 200+ pages long and there’s at least one beautiful photograph on every spread.
I got the idea for the compilation a couple of Christmases ago after several friends said they would like to read more poetry, but wished I would give them some idea of where to start.
So I pulled poems together quickly, typeset the pages, made 20 or so funky leather covers, and handed the first, homemade books out as holiday gifts.
Like all rush projects, though, my initial edition contains errors (gasp!). I’ve promised books to other pals and some have reminded me that I haven’t yet delivered though, so it is high time that I finish a new edition.
This collection works very well sequentially, although the only real themes I used when compiling it were the moon at the beginning and rain at the end. I do cringe every time I discover another typo though.
Thought I could proof the whole thing and complete the rest of the updates yesterday morning, but I included some of my own poems in the collection and an unexpected result of proofreading was that I stopped proofing and instead reworked three of my own poems.
The changes are minor—just two words in one poem, a new stanza in another, and several new lines and phrases in the third—but improvements nonetheless, and two are already published in their earlier form, but at least I know they’re better now.
Have pondered one of the poems for a long while but couldn’t quite put my finger on what to do to make the meaning so clear that even an editor on the Sinister Wisdom collective would comprehend my meaning.
Now that’s not a very nice thing to say, I know, but the editorial collective of that fine journal rejected the poem and actually returned it to me with a condescending lecture along the lines of um, you probably don’t know this, living in the South as you do, but the word "nigger" is considered offensive in most circles and MLK and other activists worked and died in your region to make you people aware of how offensive you are when you use that term.
Guess it was clearly time they raised my consciousness about these facts since, excuse me, I’ve been living in a holler with all my barefoot and pregnant sisters and rapist brothers drinking moonshine these last forty-some years.
Let me back up here and say that a one-time colleague of mine actually founded Sinister Wisdom (the first lesbian journal in the US) many, many moons ago and she’s the one who suggested that I send this poem there.
The journal is run by a collective these days though, and I suppose those nice urban lesbians saw my southern address, saw that word, and didn’t even bother to determine what the actual poem said.
That’s the only explanation I have for their condescension, since over twenty readers commented on earlier drafts and not one of them had any trouble grasping that the poem actually comments on the damaging pervasiveness of racism and religious bias and poverty in the south.
The poem’s been published elsewhere now, but I guess it’s obvious that their letter still goads me and I pondered long and hard how to beat people over the head with my message without compromising the poetry.
Seemed obvious, once I figured it out.
Derogatory comments about Southerners (or poverty) rarely surprise me anymore, but they do offend me. You can practically watch a non-Southerner register your accent then drop their perception of your IQ score by 30 points.
Once, in the city, I was at a karate party with the great-whatever-granddaughter of—O hell, I’ll just say his name: David Hume—and little Maggie was so condescending to me that, after she said who her great-whatever-grandfather was for about the third time, that I said “O, who’s that?” in a smart-ass voice (to mostly amuse my friends and myself).
She replied “Where did you go to school?” and I told her the name of the southern state university where I completed undergraduate work—one that ranks consistently ranks among the top ten state universities, mind you, but she walked off shaking her Yalie head, satisfied that she’d just verified how backwards the deep South is and I didn’t even bother correcting her.
Now if she’d wanted to discuss the education I received in public schools prior to going to college, then that would have been another story....