Blog That Can’t Do a Goddamn Thing About It

It is halfway through June, and most people I know are ready to cash 2016 in. It has been filled with death and disappointment for so many. My mom called me crying this morning because an alligator ate a two-year-old outside Disney World, for chrissakes. And, of course, so many of us are moving past pure sadness over the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida into anger over how America will wail and accuse and then not change.

While writing a poem yesterday for the Tupelo 30/30 project through the lens of all of this, I became, just for an instant, entirely without hope for humanity. I don’t mean this to exaggerate my usual mental state as being hopeful, lord no, but my hopelessness is usually about my own life–I tend to think, and maybe need to believe, that things will work out better for others. But for a minute, the weight of our fear and selfishness and myopia and zealotry felt like it was big enough to snuff out any goodness, any chance of being better.

I shook this off. Not in the way that some people hear something awful and effectively stick their fingers in their ears and lalala through your misery–rather, I accept that very little I do will stem the shittiness, and in fact, may actively contribute to it. So this is my only choice: accept that the world is a hollowed gourd filled with troll afterbirth and so stop trying, or keep trying anyway. For me, the choice is not about how to see the world but how to see myself and role I play.

Answer: write some motherfucking poems.

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It feels crass to ask people to donate to poetry right now, so that’s not the angle this is taking. If you want to, cool–see the end of this. But I’d rather write a bit on where some of the poems I’ve written for the 30/30 project (and we’re at 15/30 now) have come from as a way to open the process to some of my non-poet friends.

Until the end of June, you can see my poems here at the Tupelo 30/30 project. In July, you can read them elsewhere on the site (look around, OK?). After that, you’ll have to wait until the compilation book 30 Ways of Looking at a Quesadilla comes out.

1: “Land of Enchantment”–this is not a great poem, and no self-respecting New Mexican would ever title something with that in earnest, but I had run out of time. The only line I like is the first: “The roadrunner didn’t so now he’s dead.” This poem is also an attempt to write about place in terms of nature and that crap, which I’m balls at. I don’t know the names of anything. I just want to sit in air conditioning. I’ve been reading Gregory Pardlo and thinking about his diction and the first few poems of the project reflect my watered-down version of that.

2. “Some of My Friends Are Trying Open Marriages”–I love a good title, but sometimes the title can oppress rather than open the poem. After struggling where to turn after the first line, I listened to Richard Hugo and got out of the triggering town and straight into the arms of Chekhov, my dead Russian boyfriend. Seeing a Tin House tweet with a Whitman quote allowed me to bring it back to the notion of relationships and gratifying ourselves as soul work. Which is to say that fucking around on Twitter leads to good poems. I give this one 3.8 out of 5 beards.

3. “Photograph of a Poet Posing As If He Doesn’t Know a Photograph is Being Taken of Him”–I worried about two long titles back to back but then realized this project is ephemeral and I can’t see any of you reading this anyway. This came really from pulling books off the shelf to read poems to get something going in my brain. This guy’s photo inspired me way more than his poems no I’m not saying who it is. I also had clearly been drinking some Larry Levis before writing this.

4. “Small Towns of New Mexico”–a prose poem (which I still just don’t do very well I think). I mostly just wanted to talk about Allsup’s chimichangas (as I’ve done here in the past).

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5. “Jobs I’ve Had”–I love litany poems and have to be careful not to only do them. One of the first I did was two summers ago while at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and it was workshopped by the late C.D. Wright. Oh, man. I knew her so little and treasure it so much. In this one, I wanted to depart from my usual cataloguing of nonsense and say everything straight and true, not leaning into lovely language or metaphor and see if I could still make some meaning. This one seemed to resonate with some people, which I think made me feel brave enough to keep pushing and changing up form/tone/content for the project. Also, every litany poem I write is now basically in memory of C.D. Wright.

6. “Summer Weekend, Taos”–I was at my friends’ house in Taos. There was some stuff there. I kept trying to make it mean something poetically and instead wrote about how I was trying to do that.

7. “No Fences”–Jesus. I was just describing the guy’s sad house and then his tree fell in the street. I can’t even look at this poem without feeling awful because of my sorcery.

8. “Come On Pilgrim”–The first line: “There’s always a mattress on the sidewalk / somewhere” is perhaps the one true thing I know. This one’s not finished–it’s got a weird gap between the penitentes and the cat-walking guy, but I do want to revisit it. Title absolutely taken from the Pixies.

9. “Not Anymore”–I was visiting my dad and his wife in the middle of Vacant Lot, Texas for five days and many of the next ones come from that experience. We were driving from Austin and they regaled me with tales of how much things had changed, so while this is in part about that phenomenon it is more about the witnessing of the witnessing of the change. I also, as stated earlier, don’t know the names of anything, so I just made a bunch of shit up which was way more fun. Also, Trish O’Connor donated money and gave me some crazy people words, so voila! The Sancho Panza look-a-like contest!

10. “Bucket List”–“At 78, my father says the only item on his / is to live long enough / to piss on Dick Cheney’s grave.” This is really just how this person talks. He’s putting a Planned Parenthood bumper sticker next to his Marine Corp one just to drive Texans insane.

11. “In a Dry County”–I never begin a poem with an idea of the themes I want to explore or the emotional resonance I want it to have. That, for me, is a sure way of bogging down the poems before it can begin, chaining it to my intentions. I usually begin with language and go from there, and this is a good example of that. I had no thoughts about this being about my father’s aging and the anticipation of loss, but I’m finding that the practice of writing daily is focusing my receptors a bit more, allowing things to take shape in surprising and sometimes satisfying ways. Also, it was so hard to just get a Shiner there.

12. “Beige Hooves”–My girl Amy and I went out in Austin and she came up with the title and then told me I had to put an octopus in it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, AMY? LOOK AT THIS SHIT!

13. “The End of May”–Written after Robert Hass’ “The Beginning of September” from Praise. I had some parts from before the project but finished it for this day and through the lens of the deaths in Orlando. For me, being a parent means shutting off the part of my brain that lists the ways I could lose him. I won’t have the space to love him if I do that. Also, I am comparing my Albuquerque to Hass’ Bay Area and, well we have more dirt I guess.

14. “Against Future Disasters”–Still dealing with some of the above, of sending your love into this awful, lovely bruise of a world.

15. “Merciless”–I woke up and starting writing in my head in bed. I like the first line “We’ve left our turn signals on” and all that implies, but I don’t care for the arrival. But my son was like Play Angry Birds with me! And he didn’t mean the video game; he meant acting out the video game in real life so I was a giant bird trying to knock over a tower of couch cushions and had to send this thing in.

16. “It’s Toasted”–Rebecca Aronson donated and made me write a poem with the word “taco” in it, but somehow this also became about colonization and the violence of the American hetero-masculine identity, so that’s weird. That’s a joke, of course, because I would never sit down to write a poem about that, but since I think about these issues basically every minute of the day, they will find their way in, even into a taco poem.

If you’re interested in donating (please?), click the Donate button on the Tupelo 30/30 page and enter my name where prompted. If you do so and would like to dictate the words or title of a poem I write this month, please message me and let me know. Thanks so much.

 

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Blog That Is Bad at Things

I am bad at many many nouns and verbs, as well as a handful of adjectives and even a smattering of adverbs. The less said about my prowess with certain prepositions, the better. I am bad at waking up, I am bad at friends. I am bad at losing games involving words and I am bad at dainty.

Also, and lately crucially, I am bad at raising money.

This is not new. I never once sold the most cookies and as a waitress refused to push the up-sell. “You want to upgrade to table-side guacamole? It’s a lot more expensive and a pain in the ass for me. No? Cool.”  I don’t like asking for things, not because I fear the rejection, but because I don’t like putting other people in that position. I don’t want to be a bother. I’ve never volunteered to go door-to-door for a political campaign because that sounds like the boot camp they have in hell.

And yet.

So, because I’m writing a poem a day for June as part of Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraiser, this blog will address the process of creating ART and asking for money.

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Or not. Whatever. 

First the latter.

I am amending my offerings for donations (see not being good at things for why). Should you go to Tupelo’s 30/30 page and donate in my name, you can lay claim to the amazing prizes:

$10: Give me three words that I have to use in a poem

$15: Five words

$20: Seven words

What if you give more? See my previous blog. I’m adding these lower-dollar prizes because  as someone who is both financially strapped and super cheap, I appreciate a bargain. So here it is, your poetic blue light special for June. (If you do donate–thank you–and go ahead and drop me an email or Facebook message, as I will only receive weekly donor reports and want to stay on top of my poetry-for-hire business.)

Now the former.

Finding time and mental energy to write a poem every day has been absolutely brain-bendingly difficult, and yet I’m almost finding a rhythm. The first day of the program was also only my second day teaching two online 8-wk composition courses (which present the work of a full semester in half the time). It was also a day when my son was at home with me, so here is a sample scene of me trying to write that day:

[Child plays in other room. Poet stares meaningfully out the window. Begins to type a few brilliant phrases.]

Child: Mama, I have to show you something really important.

Poet: Okay, hon. Can it wait a minute?

Child: No! Mama! Really! You have to come over here now! Now!

[Poet goes with child to what can only be an emergency.]

Child: See? I put Captain America in my water but he can’t swim so now he’s dead!

Poet: Well that’s something. Remember what we said about mama needing to work so you could have some play time? Let’s do that, okay?

Child: Okay mama!

[37 seconds later]

Child: Mama! I put something weird in my pants!

[Repeat 18 times]

End scene

Most days, I would have given in and parented my child, but not this month! (Did you know June is National Benign Neglect Month?) Instead, lots of people have pitched in for an hour or two the past six days, allowing me enough time to write some mediocre poems that, instead of cloistering in a Word document, I have sent out into the world of poetry for dozens of people to shrug at.

The great thing about the project so far is that I feel free to write outside of many of my usual syntactical and line choices (my voice is my voice and immutable–even if I had to write a menu it would sound sarcastic and a little sad). Of course, there’s no way most of these attempts can be successful on a first go, but every one so far is born from a process that is both thoughtful and, because of the time constraints, economized.

Like most of the others writing this month, I’m working a day ahead, beginning a bit for the next day’s poem, going back to it in the afternoon if I can, then shaping it up and finishing it in the morning before sending out. I won’t be able to maintain this during the school year, but it does lend legitimacy to what I do. The idea of a poetry deadline is sort of hilarious to me–I keep imagining an old-timey newspaper editor chomping a cigar and yelling at me: Hodges! I need six stanzas examining the nature of human truth by 3! And put some goddamn flowers in there! 

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You write okay for a dame.

I was going to talk about some of the process behind each poem, but who do I think I am? Snooze. Also, the poems won’t be up on the site past July, so until maybe three of the thirty get published, you won’t know what I’m talking about. Sure, I could post them here, but why milk the cow if you’re gonna marry the barn, you know?

But needing to produce something fairly complete each day has forced me out of my normal practice of writing until I’m stuck and then walking away. For me, writing a poem is both crafting a puzzle and solving it at the same time. After trying several options that don’t, I’ll take a break, coming back to it only if the language or energy was particularly interesting to me. And in a way, I’ve done that this week in that every day I’ve written seeds of 1-3 pieces that I abandoned, the difference being is that I would normally be okay with that writing day as clearing cobwebs and not keep pushing. But now I’ve had to keep creating new openings until one felt like it could lead somewhere.

Lastly, while working on poem 7 (a piece called “No Fences” about my sad neighbor’s sad house and yard and how it’s so cliche it sounds made up), a thunderstorm yanked his 40-foot tall pine tree out by the roots and into the street. He wasn’t there, so when he came home we talked about his crappy luck: he’s caring for his sister’s mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, his VCR repair shop went bust, and now this. “Sometimes I look to the sky, and I ask God, why me?” he said. “And God said, ‘Tony, there’s just something about you that pisses me off.'” Sure, me writing about his property and then something crappy happening to said property could be seen as coincidence. But probably it is that I am a witch whose powers only reveal themselves in middle age.

Anyway–please donate to poetry! If not, I fear I shall have to write a poem about you….muhahahaha.

 

 

Blog That Asks, Won’t You Think of the Children?!?!

I used to be a nice person, a heartbreakingly nice kid (save for one incident in the third grade when, believing I was sticking up for my brother and his friend, I created a fictional “Ghost Society” and sent vaguely harassing letters through the U.S. mail to a seven-year-old boy). But even that misguided mission, nurtured by my voracious reading of late ’70s/early ’80s youth novels about kids getting shit done, came from a place desperate to help others. I was the kind of kid that adults would look at and think: she’d better callous up or the world will eat her lunch. And they were right/and I did. A decade of bullying knocked the nice pretty clean out of me. The lesson I came away from adolescence with was that being selfish was the best way to stay alive and sane.

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Je suis Veronica.

But I hate this. I hate that I pulled into myself to protect myself from the world, that I equated kindness with weakness. But this roughly inculcated lesson is hard to shake, even though I no longer see the world as a series of scenarios waiting to kick my metaphoric ass and do a touchdown victory dance over my bag of bones. (OK–I still see it as this to some extent, but I don’t take it as personally.) And so I give myself reminders and challenges to be nice, to do good. I think nice thoughts all the time. I’m a saint of the good intention, but I don’t always get around to the action part.

My decision to participate in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraising project isn’t entirely altruistic, though, like most of the “good” I end up doing. I have a job that is super hard and serves high needs communities, but I do get paid (in unripened turnips and naughty limericks, but still). I co-created a reading series to fill a gap in our city’s artistic offerings at which I will totally read because I want to read my stuff somewhere. And now I’m participating in a fundraiser for a poetry press because I desperately crave a daily reminder of my failures and inadequacies. That, and I’m trying to figure out how to write more, but the inevitable onset of imposter syndrome will just be a neat bonus.

And so why should you, fair reader, consider helping out, especially with so much other need out there? A lot of people I know have recently been doing fundraisers for LLS: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, geared toward eradicating blood cancers that keep trying to kill people I love. That is, obviously, amazing. Many other friends of mine do tremendous work for our food-insecure community members, while others are active in a variety of social justice causes. All of these should be supported. At some point, please toss some support their way.

Here, though, I will make a case for poetry, for fostering its small flame. While poetry itself can not stop hunger, it can render the struggle of those in need with immediacy and passion. And while science is still attempting to figure out if a poem has, in fact, cured someone’s cancer (my money’s on anything by Mary Oliver or Wislawa Szymborska), what a poem can most certainly do is underscore the stakes, cataloging fear and loss and fear of loss so that we rage at so much suffering and beg for a chance for more. Tupelo Press happens to do a tremendous job at choosing and crafting phenomenal books of poetry, supporting emerging and established poets alike (poets like Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Lauren Camp, Dan Beachy-Quick, and Hadara Bar-Nadav, who recently selected mi amiga Rebecca Aronson’s book Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom as winner of the 2016 Orison Book Prize). I say this even though their journal sent me a big ol’ no about a year and a half ago. I can’t even stay mad at such a great press.

I’m writing one poem every day in June in attempts to raise $500. Please check up on my questionable progress here:

If you’d like to support with a financial donation, there are a few ways to do it.

1. Subscribe to Tupelo Press–Visit: http://www.tupelopress.org/books_subscribe.php
Purchase their incredible 2015 series – 10 books for $129 and they’ll pay the postage! Or choose one of our exciting prior series, or a personalized list of any 9 titles. Put my name (Erin Adair-Hodges) in the
“Is this subscription in honor of a 30/30 poet? If so, please list their name here:” field.

2. Complete the Tupelo Press Donation Form–Visit: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php
Scroll down to the bottom of the page, fill out the donation form and send it in with a check or fill in the credit card details. Select “Erin Adair-Hodges” under the
“Is this donation in honor of a 30/30 poet? If so, please select their name here:” field.

3. Donate Using PayPal–Visit: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php
Click on the orange “Quick Donation via PayPal” button and complete the entry with either PayPal account details or credit card information.
Put my name (Erin Adair-Hodges) in the “Dedicate my donation, in honor of:” field.

As a thank you for your help, those who donate will receive:

$25 donors will get to choose one of the following:

I will write a poem with any title you give me and dedicate it to the recipient of your choice. (Idea 1000% stolen from a previous participant.)

A broadside with your choice of June’s poems.

A T-shirt with some poetry stuff on it. A quote or something like “Poetry Is My Boyfriend.”

A mix-tape with music and other good stuff you will like.

$50: Any two of the above.

$75: Any three of the above AND a copy of my future book, or should that thing never see the light of day, a video of me doing some really embarrassing dancing.

$100: I don’t even know people who could give this much, so let’s say all of the above and I’ll wash your car while wearing a child’s Darth Vader mask and some clothes I let my son pick out for me.

As a last selling point, I’ll be blogging about all this here. I hope you’ll at least check it out, if only to feel better about your own public life choices.

Thank you for reading and supporting my work and poetry in general. You are the real heroes.