Not long ago, my writing partner and I wrestled with the question "What stops us from finishing?" We followed the thread of this question and it led us to another question - "What does finished mean to us?"
Sadly, at this point in my writing journey, finished, for anything but poetry, too often means homeless, stillborn, rejected and unwanted. I believe that constellation of adjectives is sufficient to stop me from finishing.
What makes poetry different? I post it on my blog, maybe share the link, and consider it done. It is similar to tossing a message in the bottle out to the universe, but a bit more like the digital equivalent of one of those poetry boxes I see sometimes in my neighborhood. If only a handful of people see it besides me, so be it. At least I am not waiting for it to come into being. It has been born. It is public. It exists beyond the realm of a stray dog begging for scraps at the exclusive tables of public consumption on a grand scale. I'm not sure I can bear any longer to subject myself or my words to that other fate, that begging for scraps fate, and the massive infusion of self-doubt, jealousy, petty emotions and misery connected with it. I have been brave and ventured into that world, and, quite frankly, it sucks. I hate it. And it has given me precious little of value in return. Nor, I think, has it brought much to the world, including my words, in the end.
This holiday season, inspired by poet and teacher Claudia F. Savage, I created hand-bound mini-chapbooks of poetry as gifts for three special people in my life. Each book was a poem, or collection of poems, written for the recipients. The process of writing and the process of lovingly creating the binding was so profoundly energizing and meaningful. My words were given homes that mattered. My words were born from a place of love. There was not a single thought of fame or fortune or self-doubt involved. A gift of love, made with love, given with love.
Now I find myself with two collections of poetry that I want to turn into chapbooks, that were born from strong and personal sources, but that are something other than personal gifts meant for one recipient. One is called DEAR ONES: MESSAGES FROM A TEACHER'S HEART, and is inspired by and dedicated to my students, past, present and future. The other, tentatively titled EPIC is a series of poems exploring the height of the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted my life. I have begun to contemplate how to give birth to these two collections.
I can't bear the thought of putting them out there for the wolves to feed upon or turn up their noses, left to shiver in the cold and die of neglect. I realize that money and recognition aren't what I want for these two collections. I want them to exist, to find homes, if only a handful, and speak to some other heart somewhere.
So, a plan is beginning to form in my brain. A plan to hand-bind a small number of each collection and put them out at local, welcoming places - the coffee shop I frequent down the street, and perhaps some of the "free libraries" around my neighborhood. A plan to offer them for free, with a note on the back page that says, if these poems spoke to you, please make a donation to charity, and then includes either a list of charities or a link to a list, with maybe a place to email me a note if the reader is so inclined. I like the way this idea also feels like a small act of resistance in the face of our current political climate.
Perhaps this will be my one and only New Year's Resolution. To give my written work existence, without waiting for scraps from the great tables.
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