I’m writing this with my leg propped up on the coffee table and an ice pack wrapped around my ankle. Must have hurt something doing those front snap kicks. If I’m going to really go for this self-defense thing I have to remember to take my glucosamine. chondroitin. I was up and down the stepladder for hours today, helping C paint the in-law and now my joints are all mad at me.
Elizabeth Mendana, who set my poems to dance and song and theatre last year in See How We Almost Fly, asked me to write the text for her next show, In Remembrance Of…Women in World War 2. She was inspired by the story of a great aunt who served as a WAC to research women’s experiences during the war. When the WAC began in 1942, 35,000 women applied for 1,000 officer positions. It was a unique opportunity for women who would otherwise be relegated to farmwork, housework, and factory jobs.
She’s amassed a fair amount of research, oral histories, letters, but couldn’t figure out how to hone the words. We agreed I’d come aboard as the writer and write seven or eight dramatic monologues.
I went to a rehearsal today, to watch what she’s doing, meet her six dancers, and to explore the topic with them. It was an interesting crew; one German woman, a Swiss woman, two Latinas, an African American woman, another Euro-American woman whose two grandfathers had both served, and Elizabeth.
The women were very vocal and passionate about being sick of all the World War 2 cliches and not wanting to reproduce them, not wanting to glorify it as “the good war,” not wanting to glorify war at all. I tried to reassure them as best I could that neither Elizabeth nor I would do that. I feel absolute trust and confidence working with E. Having improvised together for five years means we share an intimate aesthetic vocabulary. I know that I can throw the ball in her general direction and she will swoop in and pick it up and do something beautiful with it, and she knows the same thing about me. We don’t step on each other’s toes and trust the process.
This piece is going to be a challenge—I would ideally like to make poems that are good enough to stand on their own as well as fitting together into a whole. Some little ideas are beginning to come to me, but they are fighting for space with the remnants of the last act of Shame Circus which still lies in scribbled pages in my notebook, waiting to be pulled together, and the hal-finished essay I’d like to get done and in the mail before we leave for Ashland.
There’s a temptation to surrender to the pleasure of collaboration rather than forge ahead on completing my own projects, many of which have reached sticky places of impasse. It is a rare privilege to be able to trust a creative collaborator the way you learn to trust in Wing It! Sometimes I forget that.
I can hear C drilling holes in the house to install burglar bars right now. The light is fading and he’s been working on house stuff all day—painting, going to Home Depot, and now doing this frustrating job on stucco so old and hard it has the consistency of concrete. Last night I was privileged to attend a meeting of the wedding consiglieri, a subset of the Driving Miss Craisy group who are helping Lisa with last-minute details for her wedding. I learned many valuable things about white tablecloths with colorful iridescent overlays, (just made the Freudian typo “loverlays,”) about candles floating in tiny colored glasses of water, and boxes with a dozen live butterflies inside them (only ninety dollars!) I’m sure all this knowledge will come in handy someday, but for right now it’s making me want to run away to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator.
One last rant and then I’m done: I got an email today telling me my manuscript See How We Almost Fly is a finalist in The Marsh Hawk contest. There are thirty-five of us and the Grand Prize winner and finalists will be culled from this pool. See How We Almost Fly has been a finalist and a first runner-up in half a dozen contests. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, shows I’m on the right track. On the other hand, I’m so sick or sending it out, sending it out, sending it out, and second or third place is useless because you don’t get the book publication.
I noticed that on the same list was Chana Bloch. I’m very flattered to be a finalist alongside her; she’s an accomplished poet with several books. She was the head of the Poetry department at Mills College for years. But I’m also outraged on her account that a poet of her stature should have to keep competing in these penny ante contests, sending in her twenty-five bucks and hoping along with the rest of us. In a sane artistic society, she would have a long-term relationship with a publisher by now. But since poetry sells so poorly compared with blockbuster thrillers, small presses resort to these contests and everyone is competing, jumping through the same slippery hoops for the same pathetic prizes.
I just want a sustainable relationship with a press that will publish, promote and distribute my books. I want to build a body of work, book after book, and not waste my energy sending my manuscript out to dozens of contests. I’d prefer this dream press to be mid-size rather than small, but vigor and commitment are more important than size. I’m so sick of this poetry-go-round, everyone grasping for the same brass ring..