I had Monday and Tuesday off for Shavuot; our new owners are Orthodox Jews, and so, we have a new set of holidays. Yesterday was my first day back on campus since the CDC announced the relaxed rules on masking for vaccinated people.
Of course, the problem with that guidance is that we can't tell who has been vaccinated, and our state's governor has been anti-masking, anti-taking precautions, anti-requiring proof of vaccination. I'm not going to fling myself against that wall. Most of our faculty and students are still wearing masks, so I was happy to see that.
It was strange to get to my office and find the detritus of past policies:
I feel like I should send them to some curator who is putting together cultural artifacts of the pandemic. But I also feel like it won't be that interesting to future generations.
I thought of all the wrist bands that we still have, enough for a festival. If only I could create a festival that would prompt the use of wrist bands.
Instead, I'm a poet, and like most poets, there's no need for wrist bands. I am not in demand like that. I don't know of many poets who are. It's a blessing, in most ways. If I was being paid to write poems, I'd be feeling fretful right now. I'm not writing poems the way I did when I was younger.
There are days when I wonder why I bother at all. One of the disadvantages of social media is that I see all sorts of people announcing all sorts of successes. I remind myself that I don't know that these announcements are true, that I can't judge these books by their covers (both literally and figuratively)--that although it may feel like everyone else is getting their books published by major publishers, that may not be true. I can't tell which books are self-published, which books came with big advances, which books are in bookstores or only printed when someone orders a copy.
My training in English literature serves me well--I remember all the great poets and how many of them wouldn't have been known in their own time periods. I remember all the poets who were popular during their own time, to our current mystification about their popularity.
My knowledge of social justice movements also serves me well. In my younger years, I was frustrated with how long social change seemed to take. My wise elders counseled patience, and I've been alive long enough to see patience rewarded and to feel fretful about steps backwards. Some times, the life of a long haul poet feels like that of a person working for social transformation. I can see the goal, but the realization of it isn't taking the trajectory I expected.
I still send poems out into the world, and I still submit book length manuscripts here and there, but far less than I used to, back in the 90's. In part it's about the expense, which Ren Powell has written about in this eloquent piece
. In part, it's because I wonder why I bother.
But yesterday, I got a great reminder of why I bother. I got notice of an acceptance: my poem, "Leaving the House that Hid the Asylum Seekers" has been chosen by the Syracuse Cultural Worker's 2022 Women Artists Datebook. How thrilling!
It's not the first time that this publication has taken one of my poems. Two years ago, I got my first acceptance, and I reacted with the same burst of happiness when I read the news of this current acceptance.
I'm so glad that this poem has found a home, and a home that is the perfect fit. But more important, this poem has sustained me for the past four and a half years.
In the end, I write for one main reason, to document my life, to keep a record, to help me figure out what I'm thinking. That record may be important to future generations or it may not, but that's not particularly important to me, especially since I don't control that aspect. I wrote the poem in the early days of the Trump administration, and my mind has often come back to the last few lines, especially when I've felt discouraged:
You hear the voices of the ancestors,
colored with both reason and panic.
Go faster, they urge.
You are needed up ahead.