Monday, August 10, 2020

Lessons from a Challenge Month

 Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler's The State She's In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn't have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the "states she's in" (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I'm in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I'm an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle--and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt.

I knew that I wanted to use the mug, but it wasn't until yesterday morning, when I was reading the book outside on a different lounge chair than the one I usually use, that I thought about using this coral structure:

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20's and 30's, but she's also fascinating when she dissects history--and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race.   It's an amazing work.

And now it's on to the next work--something at the office, no doubt.  It's interesting to do this Sealey Challenge during this time when so many of my books are still in boxes.  I'm not sure I have enough volumes of poetry in my office to get me through a book a day this month.  Happily, I have an Amazon order on the way, and I've put a lot of poetry volumes on hold at the library--I hope to do remote check out and pick up of books by the end of the week.

I feel a bit sad about all the books I could be reading, a justification for keeping them all.  But let me remember one of the valuable lessons of this kind of challenge.  I have more time than I think that I do, and I'm often content to while away uncounted numbers of hours scrolling through various sites.  Some of that scrolling is edifying/nourishing/important, but much of it is not.

Let me resolve to fill more time with poetry, both the writing of it and the reading of it.

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