I never said I didn’t want to move to Denver,
only that I hate mountains and craft beer.
Maybe you misheard; what I actually said
was that I’m not moved by John Denver –
his music or his Grape Nuts commercials.
But Denver is as Denver does, and if you
want me to fly low over all the wildflowers
there, pollinate all those acres of lupines,
then ask me again and I might say yes,
especially if you buy me a craft beer first.
I have some exciting news: I’ll be doing a reading from my chapbook, Secret Rivers, on Wednesday, July 30, at 6:30 p.m., at Hyde Park Art Center here in Chicago. The venue is … well, just, wow. There’s currently an installation piece by John Preus called The Beast at HPAC, and the reading will be IN the installation, which is indeed beast-shaped. It must be seen to be believed.
If you live in the Chicago area, I hope you’ll come see my first poetry reading since college — and even then, it was always just a few poems, not me hogging the whole thing. So this is a pretty big deal!
A cat’s toes in morning sunlight,
when you realize that they are pink
and black, mottled as pebbles, and
that you’ve never touched them.
How you’d like to, now.
My hairy big toes with blue polish,
chipped, and all the other toenails
long since mostly denuded of polish.
The word nude is in there somewhere,
and that’s how I feel: exposed.
My daughter’s toes, how she brags that
they’re as long as fingers, that she can
pick things up with them. My son’s toes,
how he wiggles them, announces that
Popcorn is popping, which is my cue
to nibble them. They do not yet know,
my children, that toes are anything to hide.
They are naked in this way, and innocent as cats.
Channing Tatum, I am
your pretty wife.
Your head is as wide
as a pickle jar,
and your ears are
the handles to all
that I hold dear.
You bite your thumb
at me. Your belly is
made of arthropods
under a skin as slick
as any seal’s. I’ll tie
your bow tie for you;
then, let’s measure
your waist and my arm,
my index finger and your
eye socket, my avenues,
your boulevards, all the
major thoroughfares we
haven’t traveled yet.
As you might have heard a bajillion times, my first chapbook has now been published by Evening Street Press, and I’m really excited about it.
If you’re a poet yourself, maybe you’ve read some things about chapbooks and how tough they are to place in bookstores because most bookstores really, really hate them. I didn’t want this to be true — but I’m finding it to be pretty true so far.
Likewise, I don’t know what I thought would happen when I opened my box of author copies. Maybe something like that scene in Pulp Fiction when they open the briefcase or whatever it is, and there’s a mysterious, almost celestial glow?
I guess I expected some type of self-validation, like the song in the Tony Randall movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? that repeats over and over that the main character has “got it made!” and just what a swell, successful guy he is.
Did I think I would no longer be as conscious of the fact that I lack an MFA, and that I am trying to combine my artistic life with a boatload of other stuff? Was finally getting a chapbook published going to put an end to my tendency to compare myself against others — to read contributors’ bios and imagine my fellow poets ensconced in their bookshelf-lined writing rooms or on rustic and deeply fulfilling sabbaticals when they’re not igniting the fire for the next generation of creative young minds? (I know, I know … my fantasy probably does not equal many creative academics’ reality.)
The truth is, whatever level of success I (and perhaps you, too) achieve with my writing, there will always be someone who’s doing more. Oh, look — I have a chapbook, but this other person has a book. Like, a full-on, 60-page book. It’s not much thicker than my chapbook, but there it is. It’s on the shelf right in front of me, in fact — because books do get on bookstore shelves. So what I really need to do is … get a book published. And that’s when I’ll feel like a real poet. Right?
Oh, imposter syndrome, I know you from so many other parts of my life, and yet you always seem so true.
So, how do I get out of this funk and back to being over-the-moon ecstatic about this great thing that has happened, this wonderful gift that I should never take for granted or downplay to myself? How can I quit — just for a little while — looking ahead to the next hurdle and the next and the next? That’s the million-dollar question right there. All I can say is stay tuned.
And if you’ve ever felt this way, too — that some other writer has achieved x, y, and z and is therefore “the real deal,” that there’s some magic something that they have and you don’t … just know that you’re not alone. This may be, in fact, as much a part of many creative writers’ lives as SASEs and submission fees. Maybe the key is to acknowledge that and just keep pushing forward.
(Note: I’m not putting in any links because I just want to get this out, but I encourage you to Google or YouTube both film references and “imposter syndrome,” and … OK, I can’t resist this one link, in case you don’t know the deal about my chapbook, and this other one because Evening Street Press deserves to be recognized.)
Hylbert Masserdine woke up,
stretched, said, “Mornin'”
to himself in the mirror,
extended one long arm
over the bed until
he found his favorite
shoehorn, the one with
in the shape of his own
mother, or what he imagined
his mother to be. He wrestled
each toe into its location,
his thoughts into the right
rhythm. He always felt like
he could do anything, once
he had his shoes on, once
everything was right again, the
nastiness of sleep shaken off,
all its perpetual quakings, its
cavalcade of nameless want.
Oh, and hey, don’t forget: My chapbook Secret Rivers is available now.