“Being published is being published. Being a real poet is being a real poet. Sometimes they intersect.” —Deborah Keenan
Synchronicity remains uncanny, doesn’t it? Even when I’ve enfolded it into my faith-space as a form of tiny miracle or prophetic communication. The above quote, which opens a blog post that I’m pretty sure I riffed on last summer, bubbled up in my Twitter feed this morning. While I was still mulling over my 2017 Austin International Poetry Festival experience.
The festival continues until Sunday, but I finished Friday night. Originally I thought I was skipping Saturday’s events for time with other people, but now…
One of my poems was published in the festival’s anthology. Which is pleasing, absolutely. Unlike my first year, I set aside time to speak that poem during the Anthology Read on Friday night.
And like last year—and the year before—during the days I participated in more open readings. “City Reads,” the festival schedule calls them, where one sends in one’s name to be added to the roster for a particular time/location slot, and then reads whatever the sam-hill she wishes. Basically.
I chose Thursday afternoon at a used book store and Friday afternoon at a deli. M says the coffee shop isn’t worth one’s time, because the burr grinder makes a body have to shout, microphone or no. M wasn’t with me this year; she has a day job. I ended up with one of my poet-friends on Thursday, which was nice, but she’s much kinder than M, which was tiring.
That is what startled me. Reading my work wiped me out. Except that I didn’t notice it at all–prepping went well, reading was fine, all eight or so listeners polite or occasionally moved to agreeable murmuring. I slept as usual, woke as usual.
…and spent Friday reading novels. Late for my second reading because I was reading novels and hadn’t gotten around to washing up.
Novel-reading is my surest mark of fatigue. Or avoidance, which also works in this context. So I will amend the quote: Being published is being published. Reading my work is reading my work. Being a real poet is being a real poet. And these only incidentally intersect.
Now that I know the toll it takes, it may be worth my while to speak my work more frequently. Though I don’t yet have a reason why building that endurance would have value for me. Something to ponder -!
This passage is what I remember most sharply from the above-quoted blog post:
So what does it mean to be a “real poet”— a real writer? If publication doesn’t turn out to tell me anything essential about myself or about my work, what standard am I pursuing?
That I tried? No.
That I feel good? Certainly not.
That it was hard? Nope.
Which is the existential crux, isn’t it? With writing even more ephemeral-feeling than ever before, what makes it “real,” whether Velveteen Rabbit-real or hoppity-hop real?
She has an interesting approach, too, but it isn’t mine. As I hammer at “realness” over and over again, I am ever more convinced my writing, and my publishing, and my speaking all rest here:
Lebannen, this is. And thou art. There is no safety, and there is no end. The word must be heard in silence; there must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.
—Archmage Ged, in U. K. LeGuin’s The Farthest Shore p121
What I want to know, I do not get to know. I am to do, and that gets to be enough.