Wednesday, February 16, 2011


From Nick Demske, a featured debut poet in the Jan/Feb issue of "Poets and Writers," these thoughts: "...I realized that, in general, the human body is a bad form for the human spirit. Bad form. Bad form"

My son and I had been given Border's gift cards. As rumors swelled that the chain would file for bankruptcy this week, whether for re-organization or liquidation was not known, we indulged in magazines. Prices of books seemed like bad jokes after establishing a frugal, cautious Amazon habit. (Note: since I began this writing, they have filed for Chapter 11 and announced that the Pasadena store will close.)

What is now Poets and Writers was once called Coda. I was a subscriber then, submitting short-short stories and even applying for a residency, an act as rewarding as throwing money in a fountain. This, the Inspiration Issue, was the first copy I'd seen in at least six years.

It is a changed world. Discovered on the first flip-through, MFAs in creative writing were offered on nearly every page. Is there, will there be employment and publication for those who earn the degrees? If enrollment matches the zeal of recruitment, that seems unlikely, though I can only guess. I felt I'd wandered into a parallel universe in which everyone is or wants to be a writer, which left me estranged from the machinery behind my former profession. If one no longer earns a living from the work, I guess it ceases to be a profession.

At 18 I left school - a semester and half of junior college, attended infrequently and in an altered mental state not of my choosing - and my family home and proceeded to unravel. I still held a half-plan, half-dream of San Francisco State and writing. That never happened. But eight years, one marriage and two public relations jobs later, I was hired by a daily newspaper as a feature writer. It was the early 1970s and in suburbia a degree had not yet become mandatory.

Skip ahead to the spring of 2010 and blog exploration. Links led to further links and I found myself among poets. I had not written poetry since high school. None of it survives, for which I am pitifully glad. But so many years later, poetry clutched at me, beckoned to me. I fell in love, to use Karla Bonoff's words, "...with the wild heart of the young." I am excited  ecstatic, foolish, hopeful . It feels as though I am teaching myself to juggle and ride a unicycle. I am a very mature freshman, wanting to know poetry, more grateful than I can say for the generous company in which I have landed.

Seeing the ads in Poets and Writers brought on a sense of futility about this process of self-re-education. But I don't need to earn a living from whatever this endeavor becomes. Income is welcome, but not expected, nor used as a measure of success.  Poetry and I are in the all-consuming, breathless, infatuated and blinding start of an affair. This time it could be the real thing.


Kass said...

Life is so much richer when you're poetry-aware. The possibilities are endless and intertwined. It is indeed a true affair of the heart. What a wonderful way to describe it.

Elisabeth said...

Take the need to earn an income out of it and you are free to write and to read to your hearts content.

susan t. landry said...

i like the sense of the journey, marylinn, that i can visualize from this brief summing up of the past. i think too often life is seen as uphill, or downhill, but here, you give us a level pathway, a few twisty turns in the road, perhaps; and poetry arrives when it does--or, you arrive at it.

37paddington said...

you are in the best possible place, writing for love. i have a day job, and the reason i do that job daily is so that i don't have to burden my true with the need to make me a living. i write for love and for myself and for release and sanity it is a true, true thing. i go where it takes me and i am so glad that one of the places it has taken me, is here.

what a wonderful discovery you are on.

37paddington said...

*burden my true love

Melissa Green said...

Dearest Marylinn, you are in the best possible place--you are in love with poetry! That is the trueest, most pure, most trustworthy and difficult state to find yourself in, but it is the only one that matters.

Poets and Writers Magazine, MFAs, every single college in America has an MFA because it pays--that's it! They get students, can corral mediocre 'Poets" to come and teach there, they offer prizes to get more interest in their little programs--oh, it enrages me to death because none of it has anything to do with the daimon, the ferocity of Eros, of being picked up by your hair and shaken which is what real poetry is.

The dumbing down of America strikes again. The democritization of Art is a devastating travesty. If
anyone can be an artist or a poet, then the high standards crash like the economy of 1929. It is meaningless, it is language at its lowest level, its most devalued condition. I would venture to say that most people who enter the factory of the MFA system, come out writing similar poems to all the other MFA students. They are not being taught REAL
POETRY, they are being taught a pseudo-poetry by teachers who also went through the factory.

If one is not hopelessly in love with language, with the heart and soul of poetry--one writes drivel, one will never be a poet.

Just stay in love, Marylinn. That is the highest calling.It is a gift. Hang onto it and you will find your way to the best language, the one that truly teaches us who we are, and what language is, what love is--oh, lucky you, to be in love!!

Robert the Skeptic said...

You bring up an interesting thought, does the need/desire to earn a living from one's writing effect the quality of that writing? It has me thinking.

RachelVB said...

My Grandpa sent the a gift subscription of "Poets and Writers" and quite frankly that magazine scares the shit out of me. I barely read it. I read the inspiration issue because it interviewed poets and well writers and I thought that was interesting, but seeing all those listings upon listings upon listings makes me so anxious I start panicking that I need to publish now now now.
I suppose the magazine has to get money, too. And most writers, well, they are more concerned with getting published than what they are actually writing. The writing itself will always be more important. No matter what stage you or I or anyone is at. If you aren't putting the work in, growing, reading, observing, feeling, pushing, breathing certainly a magazine full of listings won't help.
I think the more I head into the wind of writing, the more I realize the only right way is your way. Otherwise you'll just sound like every one else. And what's the point of that?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - It is just how it felt, when I realized I was smitten. What dimension it adds. If I was word-obsessed before, what can I call this?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elisabeth - I've learned that I can't enter any project with an eye to financial gain. My process is very much about doing the work, letting it go, waiting to see what happens. This is all about the joy of discovery.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - The arrival of poetry was so unimagined...entering a new world so unlikely, yet here I am. At least I am accustomed to a meandering path. The blessing of curves in the road is that we can't see what waits around the next one. I could not be more excited if I was on my way to Paris. How extraordinary.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - There is such freedom, just as I found with this blog, once I let go of any expectation of where it would take me. It may sound odd, but I think there is pleasure to be found in testing ourselves, seeing what we can do, just to find out. My last real job let me explore many forms that have never equaled a living, but without that security, I could not have tried them. This is a wonderful place.

Radish King said...

marylinn, i am giving a reading for poets and writers AT barnes and Noble in april. i will not say when the last time i read that particular magazine. because i'm nice.


really i got asked to do the reading because one of my former poetry students is now an editor there and because i haven't read in two years and i do love reading and because i have some new poems that need to be trotted out to an unsuspecting ever so polite and mild seattle audience.



ps. poetry unlike men and jesus will never abandon you.

Radish King said...

ps. i guess i should write that i'm reading at B&N if it still exists. hahahahahaha. it's for a women's anthology to be curated or something like that by carolyn kennedy.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - That's how I feel, so lucky to be in love. Thank you for clarity from your perspective on the MFA deluge. Each of the debut poets featured in the magazine had an advanced degree, or two. It did feel like a cheapening of every part of it. What if brilliance is diluted by the system? I thought very much of those young writers and their dreams, the cost of their educations, results promised or at least implied. I have the luxury of looking at everything I can put my hands on, absorbing all I can hold. Inventing, if that is indicated, a form that fits the words that are mine. Giddy, that's what I am.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - I still have a weekly commercial assignment and because it leaves me a lot of freedom in what I write, it is not different from what I post on my blog. But I have written with sale as the main purpose and while I think the work would have been the same regardless, it certainly brings a tension, maybe a touch of desperation - what if this doesn't go? What I have come to practice is doing my best, then letting it go. Will you let me know when you reach your conclusion?

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - That is how I see all of this, once I regained my equilibrium. We must write what we are driven/called to write. If it finds an audience, how fine. I think what matters is that we love what we do, we love (or something very close to it) each little pointy-headed line we produce. Not because it is masterful or dazzling but because it is true. I dream of the words dancing together without a misstep so I can enjoy their beauty. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rebecca - Of course one would say yes to such an invitation. A former student as an editor, someone who clearly respects you and your work, is second only to being a publishing heiress. And your reading will make them look good. You know we will be here, virtual cheer-leading outfits pulled from mothballs.

I think B&N will still be there and if not, another venue will be found. I hope you attract a vast, enthusiastic and not too mild audience. An anthology with Caroline Kennedy's name on it - gold, I tell you, gold.

Jesus still hangs out by my front gate, smoking too much and pretending not to look at my window. He mutters about "moving on" but hasn't left yet. He's probably sitting in a tree behind your house, trying to act blase, like what do you mean, what am I doing in your tree? Now the men, they're a different story. I had the feeling poetry would be a keeper. xo

Claire Beynon said...

Once again, you prize open a kernel we're all familiar with and an elixir of wonder and truth pours forth - outwards and onwards it flows. . . plenty for everyone.

Thank you, Marylinn. xo

T. said...

If the act of writing poetry required monetary compensation, there'd be little poetry on this planet.

When my visual-artist friends complain that they're not raking in enough cash from their artistic output, I always suggest poetry to them as an alternative.

I am acquainted with many poets who won't even look twice at me because I didn't finish my MFA. After a year of it (back in the late '70's) I ran screaming. It wasn't real life, and in the absence of real life, there was no way I could still be a poet. A conundrum for which there was a solution. For which I am thankful.

In my writing group the other night, a poet brought a piece which knocked the air from me -- I nearly burst out crying. That's what poetry should do.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - Thank you. It had become too big not to be spoken of exactly as it is. Hooray for "Poets and Writers" and a way to ease into the real story. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

T - That is what poetry should do, what the fact that poetry exists should do, which seems to be my present state. There is poetry here, how did I forget?

The MFA ads made me want to run screaming...and I have actually been thinking what it would be like to study with someone extraordinary for the pure joy of using more of my brain. Going on the assumption that each of us is unique, I understand that there is much in each of us that will have no match. I trust each of us to know what our process needs to be and to be generous with each other as we find our path. Very little in life is one size fits all.

You've told of a life in poetry just as I envision it. Glamor seekers need not apply. Thank you so much.

Antares Cryptos said...

Reading. Thinking.
I'll be back to comment :)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - You are welcome whenever you stop by.

Antares Cryptos said...

"The human body...", but for now it is all we have.

I was trying to find another quote by a writer who eloquently wrote about how the needs of his physical form interferes with his writing, but cannot for the life of me remember who it was. :(

There is so much to respond to in this post and reading the comments that it would end up in its own portmanteau of comment post.

Since I'm still trying to justify the time spent with this new "hobby" in my life, there are already scribbled lists of related post ideas, some in point form, that I deem important.

This post made me wander off in many different directions at once. You seem to have that welcome effect on me. :)

Since counting has been on my mind lately (and thank you for your visit, I deliberately did not announce it with a "nudge"), here are some thoughts.

Antares Cryptos said...

Cognitus interruptus:
A battery just reminded me it was time to stop thinking, my body reminded me it was time for a snack and PENS never have that audacity. Lost my train of thought...

Given your poetic and lyrical language, it never occurred to me that you haven't always been a poet. I'm glad you rediscovered that particular bicycle.

P.S. I left you a question in response to your comment on mine.

Marta said...

I see that Kass has referred to a richer life when poetry is alive and well...I would agree. I feel more alive and well when reading your blog and thank you for the luscious images you paint with words...

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Hello, thank you. I'm glad I wandered into the garage and discovered that particular, forgotten bicycle, too. In the mid-80s I WAS studying fiction and poetry and then...too much intervened, amnesia set it and by great good fortune I got sent back in that direction again.

Hobby and blog may not be words that go together. It is the means to give a shout-out to the universe, to bring some of our disparate thoughts into order and wandering off in different directions is one of the GOOD parts of being here.

I will hop over to see you and respond to your offer. Many thanks.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Marta - Thank you, and for finding the riches contained in the comment section. It is as though my post is the question and the readers provide the answers; at the very least they always expand my awareness and give me more to ponder. I will need to see if there is a national poetry month, or just declare one. xo

Antares Cryptos said...

Blog hobby is how I'm currently justifying the time involved (and why I still have not watched Mr. Fox).

Thank you for accepting the Count, I will present it properly to you in a few weeks.

Time, time, time, so elusive...