A year ago, I moved to Philadelphia to do two things: to live with my girlfriend, who had just taken a teaching position in Wilmington, and to write. I had just graduated from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where I studied poetry. I had 30-something pages of thesis manuscript to work with, all of which I've since abandoned. I wrote a few new poems. I worked two jobs. I published a book review. I read submissions, briefly, for a poetry journal. I started a blog.
Of all of the tasks I've taken on since moving to Philly, starting a novel was perhaps the most misguided. In David Castro's book, Genership: Beyond Leadership, Toward Liberating the Creative Soul, Castro describes our society as one that pits creativity against rationality; we engineer our career and life choices according to logic, what seems reasonable, what will cover our rent. Castro asks "What if our most critical human goal...is not to know or understand, but rather to create, to generate?" For a writer, an occupation rooted against the odds, the novel is the reasonable choice. Unlike poems, people actually buy novels--you can find them in grocery stores on a rack next to Us Weekly and Maxim. The public has relationships with novelists; they have name recognition. Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, David Baldacci--surely, even if you've never read their novels, you've heard of them. And though you've read a poem by Robert Frost or even one of Shakespeare's sonnets, it's more likely that you've read a novel by someone still living; the last poet you read has likely been dead for a century or longer.
There are few relationships that I've maintained as intensely than that with poetry. In middle school, I wrote poems in a hotel bathroom while on vacation with my parents in New York City; I wrote poems after high-school break ups; I spent a semester dissecting typographical cues in the poems of Emily Dickinson; I drafted poems sitting in my car between deliveries. And so with my novel came a grand announcement--and a betrayal. I had an opportunity to be seen, even known, and, sensibly, used the novel to my advantage. The novel has a heft in the collective American consciousness that few art forms possess. And I knew this, all too well.
Several months after starting Wordshop 101, I have 12 pages of fiction to show for my experiment, and a betrayal of my own interests. Simply put, fiction just isn't my bag. I thought it could be, and that it might prove to be the vehicle that would lead me to a wider audience that might accept a collection of poems in the future. The truth is that the road to writing more poems lies only in reading and writing more poems. And this truth, I illogically, insensibly, irrationally ignored, leading myself into a quagmire of my own making.
In my classroom in Glendale, Arizona, where I spent two exciting and formative years, I hung a broadside of Keats's poem "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be," one of the few poems I know by heart. The speaker describes his books as "[holding] like rich garners the full ripened grain." He worries he'll never "live to trace" the clouds' shadows with "the magic hand of chance." He fears a life of literary obscurity, of anonymity. But when he thinks of his beloved, he says, "when I feel, fair creature of an hour, / That I shall never look upon thee more, / Never have relish in the faery power / Of unreflecting love—then on the shore / Of the wide world I stand alone, and think / Till love and fame to nothingness do sink." There are few things in my life that provide me with the same sense of comfort: my beloved, my family, my friends, and my poetry.
Wordshop 101 has yielded for me some wonderful discoveries, namely the podcast, which I will continue to produce, as it has proved a form that requires deep study and rigorous creativity. Producing each episode has felt like writing a term paper every week in that through its assembly, I learn so much about the subject at hand, and about storytelling. As for my writing, we'll see where it takes me. I will rely on my artistic instincts, not my contrivances. And as promised, will hopefully do some damned good writing.