After planning a trip to Spain for the summer, I cancelled it, though I never actually booked anything, to stay home and finish revising my manuscript. I am lucky to have this time, yet there is only the summer and the pressure to repair my problem poems and to make this collection coalesce into something publishable is at time overwhelming. It is much easier to fill out more job applications online or search the top 10 best places to live for [fill in that day’s criterion].
Just like our bodies, it is a constant effort to feed the creative body/mind with the right food. Each morning, I resist turning on the radio and pick up something from the pile of books on my kitchen table to read as I eat breakfast and have my coffee. The week’s selection has been essays from Mary Oliver’s Blue Pastures.
“I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak — to be company,” concludes Mary Oliver in her essay “My Friend Walk Whitman” *(15).
Last night after Wille Perdomo’s reading at Street Poets, Inc. over pupusas and platanos with another great poet, Sandra Rivera Garcia (all great food to feed your inner poet), we talked about the questions of voice and authority raised in Perdomo’s poetry and in the Q & A afterwards. I hear the immediacy of Perdomo’s work, which brings us into the trains and tunnels and streets, lingers on the corners and races between the rivers. I allowed me not just to take a little trip to New York City, but to do so as a Puerto Rican man. While his sultry voice and finely timed performance-style reading added to the visceral experience of his work, the fine craft and smartness that goes into each word he chooses was equally in play. I don’t write like that. Because I am not Willie Perdomo from Spanish Harlem. I know this, yet, when I am so moved by a reading, I often wonder why and how my voice, my poems can or will move an audience.
Yet, the lesson from Oliver is the same as the one Perdomo gave in his responses to the audience after his reading (and in the embodiment of his work): “poetry is a response to what you read.” And if two such divergent poets can both speak to me, both be my company this summer, then I must be sure that my poetry, which is not the communion with nature of Oliver’s or the voice from the street of Perdomo’s, has something to say in this conversation. Let me go find what that is.