Saturday, January 10, 2015

Taking Pleasure in Each Brick

            I have a feeling that this will be the Year of the Book for me. I’ve paid my dues for quite some time, writing, revising, submitting, hoping—but so far I haven’t had any luck in attracting the eye of an editor with my full-length poetry book manuscript.
            On a related note, you can find Legos in any room of my house, including the bathrooms. Scan along the floorboards, and there will be some minifigure head or inverted roof tile or facet brick, just waiting to be discovered.
            It has crossed my mind that I may be focusing my attention on unpopular subjects. It is no accident that I know the name of obscure Lego bricks. This is my life—a life of videogames and plastic toys and arguments over homework. I love it, and I see the poetry in it. While I may attack a topic obliquely, not addressing Plants Versus Zombies: Garden Warfare or Minecraft by name, a life of games and toys and don’t-hit-your-brother is the one I know, and it’s where I put my energy. It’s what I write about.
            But the world of small-press publishing is not this world. It loves airy irony. It does not know the sharp, specific pain of a bright green two-by-six brick in the arch of the foot on a midnight trek to the toilet.  It does not always appreciate mom-poems.
A few specific cultural trends are perhaps to blame for this attitude. One that is not specific to the writing world is sexism, or even the sort of unintentional gender bias that Graywolf Press was recently called out for (and vowed to fix, to their credit). Mom stuff is woman stuff, and some people just don’t see the value in that—at home or in the workplace.
In magazines more than in presses, I also see the problem of dilettantism—recent MFA grads who want to start a magazine and do so, plucking from the air a name composed of an adjective and noun (something like Embittered Radish or Woolen Toothpick or Paper Baby) and putting out six issues before calling it quits. Don’t let the name fool you; mom-poems have no place in Paper Baby.
And there is also a very creditable desire to find work that has something urgent to say. Mom stuff doesn’t seem urgent (unless you’re the one with the mushy diaper), maybe because most people had a mom-type person and what he or she did seemed pretty normal and routine at the time.
But I’m a mom, and believe me, it feels pretty urgent. It also feels timeless and beautiful and, every single day, brand new. Here’s a draft of a poem I wrote today:

The Toddler Is Overtired

So bone-weary, all he can do
is hop up and down in his crib,
and sing out syllables, and pull 

the cat’s tail, and jump some more.

I’ve never been that tired, up
hours longer than he should be,
eyes red and fighting to stay open.
It’s a tired that jangles, zaps
his nerves, like being so hungry
you don’t feel hungry anymore.

But even the electric eel
has to sleep sometimes
in the mud of an Amazon stream.
All day he finds his way with bursts
of small charge, his electricity
making up for weak eyes, and even
when he tries to rest amid reeds,
always there’s a hum in him.

I think a lot of parents can recognize that overtired, electric toddler; I think a lot of non-parents can remember being that tired—so zonked that everything jangled and buzzed. Regardless of its level of success or failure, it is addressing something worth thinking about, and that’s what I hope to find in a book of poetry.
            There is also a chance, and a sizable one, that my book manuscript is just not very good. I think many of the poems have merit, but I’m forced to acknowledge that I may not have organized the thing very well, and that connections I see among the poems may not be apparent to an outside reader. If organizing poetry collections is an engrained skill, then I must sadly confess that it ended up on the genetic cutting-room floor for me, along with my dancing ability and my talent for long division.
            I can take a lesson from my son, though. When his Lego creation is not working, he gives a shrug and begins to disassemble. Sometimes he takes it apart completely and starts over from the beginning. Sometimes he unmakes a portion that is causing him trouble. Some pieces end up holding the whole thing together. Some pieces end up on the floor.

            His wisdom is that he takes pleasure in the building.