(See also: sentimentality.)
In almost any beginning workshop, you’ll learn that there’s one thing that will turn a good poem sour in a jiffy: sentimentality. Well, I happen to like sentimentality. And breaking poetry rules. And yet, ironically, in first-year workshop with my cohort and David Trinidad two years ago, all my peers complained that I was never vulnerable enough. (Note: the schism between vulnerability and sentimentality is like, well, big enough to drive a party bus through.) When David gave us all individual prompts, mine was to bleed. The crowd demanded blood.
This is my first post as an MFA alum. And I’ll be the first to admit that summer couldn’t have arrived quickly enough. In short, last semester was stupidly busy: in addition to wrapping up my experience as a graduate student and completing my thesis manuscript, I was also teaching Writing & Rhetoric, blogging for CAA, reading for the release of my new chapbook at AWP and on a Midwest Reading Tour, working on an ongoing semester-long collaborative exhibition, fielding queries, questions, and concerns from prospective and admitted students, working my restaurant job 20 hours a week, and curating for The Swell.[Whew.]
The first thing I did after completing my MFA was to take an online test that was to determine what career I should really be pursuing. The result?[flickr id=”14379030926″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
I wasn’t sure whether this was good news or bad news.
But needless to say, these first few weeks of summer have been gorgeous: lots of bike riding, first of all. Then there’s going to the beach, grilling out, sinking my teeth into some long works of prose, and allowing myself the time to reflect on the experience I’ve just come out of. And of all the things I could say about my program, I realize that the most valuable take-away isn’t any of the manuscripts I’ve completed, or the suitcases full of books from AWP that I haven’t even begun to put a dint in, or even the publications. It’s the relationships. These are the things I will always carry with me.
Dear friends and cohort,
I love you.
For my undergraduate graduation, I was playing ultimate frisbee in a field about 300 yards away from the commencement ceremony. For my MA graduation, I was in Paris (I mean, who’s going to fault me for that?). So instead of dealing with trying to get my brunch bar shift covered so that I could go to my MFA graduation ceremony, I chose to work, placing little value on the formality of the occasion. That morning, I snuck off to the bathroom to send a photo to my cohort, reminding them that I was there in spirit.[flickr id=”14215500249″ thumbnail=”medium_640″ overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Abigail Zimmer and Tyler Cain Lacy, the two friends I’ve grown closest to throughout this experience, sent me this in reply:[flickr id=”14400802502″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
My heart sunk. That’s when I knew that it wasn’t about the ceremony at all, but about being there to celebrate with my friends. While they were there memorializing the intense two-year achievement they’d just endured together, I was making Bloody Marys.[flickr id=”14399897542″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
The following week, the group of us all met up for a picnic in Lincoln Square, which, after a lovely evening in the gazebo, ended up on Abigail’s back porch. We talked poetry, naturally, first impressions from two years back, and each went through our own highlight reels. Whenever Tyler wears his cool deep fuschia plaid short-sleeve button up, I remind him that’s the shirt I met him in.[flickr id=”14214630408″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Last week I met with Tyler and Abigail for a picnic by the lake and to help them make a video of their poems that were part of the new issue of Stolen Island. Since they couldn’t be there for the release, they wanted to send something, so I was recruited for a quick-fire video poem challenge.[flickr id=”14378122956″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Having become so intimate with their work on our Midwest Reading Tour, it was nice to have their poems in my head again. Not just their poems, but their voices, too.
During our last week of the semester, our cohort gave a collective reading at MANIFEST. The space itself was beautiful, with a long look of the lake on one side, and an elegant panorama of the city on the other.[flickr id=”14400185874″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Our thesis advisors introduced us individually, giving a short and sincere introduction about our work in general, or, as in my case, about our thesis projects. My thesis, The Pea Patch Murders (which my brother and I are now writing a film script for), although it explores ideas about history, truth, and fact, is ultimately based on a gruesome double murder outside of my home town in 1930. But instead of reading a poetic take on blood and the decomposition of bodies, I instead gave the audience what came to me, rather accidentally, the night before.[flickr id=”14402187925″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
Some ghostly printer error changed one of my poems, making it truer than I could have ever achieved on my own. The new poem told me exactly what it was that I was feeling about the humans I’ve been writing poems with for the last four semesters. And how their voices have helped me learn my own voice, how to listen and to trust. And most importantly, that pronouns distract us, distance us from interconnectivity. But I am actually closer to you when the capacity of the pronoun allows for interchangeability.
I am who
Every part of me
Are amber in a way
Like me is
Dear, I am
than a name.
I didn’t even mention the birds, which is a common trope for saying something like, this is beautiful, or, I love you. But not even birds are big enough to mean the love I have for my friends, and what they mean to me.