Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of Poet Laureates and Poetry Progress

I am just seeing the announcements that Tracy K. Smith will be our new poet laureate.  I am so in awe of her work and so intrigued to see how she will use the power of that office.

In the interest of honesty, let me also observe that this news makes me feel inadequate.  She's 45, the winner of many prizes, the head of Creative Writing at Princeton.  I am a woman who will be 52 one month from today, and my publication roster is smaller.  I cannot imagine that I will ever be invited to work at one of our nation's more prestigious universities; but I also know that if I did work there, I'd be worried about the nation's dispossessed who aren't being served by those universities.  I am working with those populations, and I confess that I am no miracle worker.

I was thinking about the paths my life has followed as I drove up Highway 17 towards Charleston. I don't usually take that route, but I was meeting my Mepkin friends for lunch in Mt. Pleasant before we went on to the Abbey.  I thought about some of the past times I've travelled that road, both when we lived there and when we came back.  I thought about the time that I read at the Piccolo Spoleto festival, which felt like a highwater mark of my career.  I had one chapbook published, which meant that I could read at the event.  I felt sure that I'd have a book with a spine soon--and surely, I could than translate that success into a different kind of teaching job--I wasn't naïve enough to think it would be a Princeton kind of job, but perhaps a liberal arts school or a smaller state school.

That was back in 2005, and while career/artistic doors have opened to me, they haven't been the ones I expected.

I feel fortunate to have had friends along the way, and our stories are similar.  I think of good news that came to them, good news that I thought might be transformative--and yet, the paths that came afterwards aren't the ones we expected.  Perhaps our new poet laureate has similar stories.

I'm also struck by the fact that I read at Piccolo Spoleto in June of 2005.  I think of 2005 as one of my worst years, bookended by the horrible, drawn out, death-by-hospital of my mother-in-law and the worst hurricane season in Broward county in almost 100 years.  But it was also a year of creative success, and the year I returned to France (where I was born on an Air Force Base) with my parents--it was a trip that I knew would be one of my favorite memories, even as we were making those memories.

I feel like I've taken a bit of a sabbatical from good writing practices--in the past two months, with the accreditation visit and the follow up, with the intense pace of my ENC1102 online class, I haven't returned to my writing desk as often as I would like.  Let me now begin to plan for the bit of time that I see on the horizon, where the pace of my various work lives lightens a bit.

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