POETRY: Get Real

My 10-day MFA residency ended on Sunday (6/30) and since I wanted to get one more run in at Forest Park I stayed an additional night at a lovely cottage on the NW side I found on the website airbnb.com. My Monday afternoon flight from PDX to RDU was uneventful except that I read (Pacific faculty) Pete Fromm’s book Indian Creek Chronicles. I had heard him read an excerpt a few days earlier at a faculty/student outing to Elk Cove Winery and was hooked. His story reminded me a lot of my own adventures and I was eager to hear more. The book (and my earplugs) provided helpful protection from bored and potentially chatty folks with whom I shared space. I finished it with 30-minutes left before touchdown. I recommend it.

Katie met me at the gate and, per usual, we were both a little nervous (yet super excited) to see each other. Sometimes being away for a short time seems like forever. This trip was one of those sorts. I feel that the MFA residency offered me a chance to strip off any layers of pretense, exposing something pretty close to the real self. I find this fascinating and attribute it to two main things: First, we were all there to create, share and have critiqued our art. This kind of sharing doesn’t leave room for inflated egos or social facades. Second, during the craft talks the faculty kept touching on variations of a theme – being real. So many times I could have replaced the word ‘write’ with ‘life’ and it would have been applicable. Poetry faculty member David St. John said something like in order to write well we must be in love with the world. All of us moved through the ten days as real people as we supported each other’s efforts to do so. What an amazing (and inspiring) example of community infused with and strengthened by love.

My semester mentor is the poet Kwame Dawes. He set five assignment dates spread out between now and November for which I will need to submit five new poems along with thorough reviews of each of the twenty books I plan to read. My first due date is in two weeks so I already feel in near-scramble mode. But being the person that I am, I always need to make sure my external world is in order before I can do anything with my internal world. The irony of this is that over the past ten days, these two things have been one in the same and I didn’t even need a list to keep my head on straight. Shoot, I even was surprised by how well my memory was functioning. Yet the first day after I return home I am already working with two to-do lists while my swiveling head can’t stop wondering about all the stuff in our house I can get rid of. I don’t need 20 t-shirts! Why am I keeping those books? And this pile – would I miss it if it were gone? I swear my heart is beating faster than usual and there’s a shallowness to my breath. It’s a weird feeling. Almost as if I am trying to run, to jog even, but my feet aren’t touching the ground. So I just hover and do nothing except worry.

I decided that writing this post might be just what I needed in order to get my legs back under me. And thankfully, it seems to be working, albeit slowly.

I don’t function well in life when I am trying to (choose your own metaphor here) juggle a dozen balls, spin a dozen plates, do a thousand things at once or what have you. Seems that part of this MFA program, for me anyhow, is to continue with the ‘realness’ experienced at residency and (drumroll) bring it home. What can I do, or not do for that matter, that will allow me to reflect my true self? How can I most successfully meet my needs as I continue to reevaluate my wants? What previous and new commitments should be considered? Life continues to be a circuitous adventure – and the beautiful thing is that everything is connected if I look close enough. My writing, running, yoga, artwork, relationship with Katie (and family and friends), my historical interests, love of jazz and even my obsession with husky puppies – all connected. For some reason this became a little bit clearer over the past few weeks – and for some reason it made me cry a lot. It’s amazing what letting go, being real and opening myself up to the world can do.

It’s all good.

2 thoughts on “POETRY: Get Real

  1. I wrote something very similar in my journal six months ago, Tom. Not sure whether it’s reassuring or terrifying, but this is normal. Or at least, normal-ish. After all, I’m not sure any “normal” person would lump us in the same category with them. Welcome to the life of the MFA student. Keep your balance. Keep your head. Channel it into your writing. And don’t forget: you aren’t alone out there. Stay in touch, and if (when) you struggle, reach out. It’ll make all the difference.


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