I began writing at the age of 15. My father had just died at 45 of a heart attack. The poems I wrote often rhymed and had titles like “The Irony of Agony”. They read more like song lyrics than poems, but they were poems. I was writing to sort out what the New World was for, the one where father’s are dead and everyone else is dying. It wasn’t all sadness and mourning though, there was a newness in everything, there was language.
In college the poems stopped rhyming and I was finding music in words themselves. During each of my classes I would write esoteric and grandiose phrases in my notebooks like, “So stand in its wake, awash with the melody, and breathe deeply the silence, the sound of something none of us can comprehend.” I made a document on my computer called “myinnerself.doc”, and collected and continued to write these phrases (The document is now 246 pages of sheer juvenile brilliance).
I finally took my first poetry class and then my senior year I took my first creative writing workshop. I had never showed anyone my poems in little bits as facebook statuses, and when people saw them they went over happily enough. We had to write a short story, a piece of sudden fiction, but I couldn’t think in strands that linear or well connected, so I wrote a prose poem about the sea (eyelashes, like anchors!) It felt natural and I felt talented. So I signed up for a poetry workshop, with a man named Jericho Brown.
Jericho Brown is a crazy man, the most intelligent, intuitive creature I’ve ever met. He made me read the first books of poetry I’d ever read. In his class we read nothing but first books, from Michael Dumanis’ My Soviet Union to Maurice Manning’s Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions. I wanted to write a book of poems.
When the semester was ending and I was all set to graduate I found out that I was 2 credits shy of the minimum required to graduate. So I took an independent study with Jericho. I read more poetry and wrote more too. I also helped him put the final touches on his first book of poems, Please. Proofs would arrive and we’d argue about the cover design and the font, it was his child, his very first. I told him he’d be famous one day, and he is. He told me I had to apply to graduate school for poetry and so I did.
So I arrived to UCSD and my MFA, to my first two classes in one day with Michael Davidson and Rae Armantrout. I wasn’t an English major, I had never studied literature, and I had only just taken my first poetry workshop. I still felt talented, but I felt ignorant and I was and I am still. I just kept writing. I wrote a poem each day, and learned to see poems of the world. Poetry became habitual, the function of my body. Now, this comes and goes, that world can’t always be habituated, but I locate myself with poems.
I alternate. The time passing always leads me to wonder what’s left to be said, and just then I invent something to say. I’ve hardly even begun to try and have my poems published. The manuscript I am working on now explores the very same questions that I asked 10 years ago when I started writing poems. I find that I’m still sorting out that same New World of back then. My father and your father are dead and dying. But their bodies, for a time, will still grow hair. A full moon is audible on the sea at night. My father was a fisherman. My father was Portuguese. My father was an alcoholic, and my mother is still living, though she doesn’t understand poetry. I try telling her there is nothing to understand but she still says she doesn’t. I’d tell any child that poetry is a very simple thing and they’d agree. I wish I could tell my mom that I think of poetry just like this: a bird landing briefly in wet cement and then flying off.
Momma, I am a poet, more or less. If I said I was a little bird, I know you’d understand. I want to write myself a book of poems. I want to talk about hair and sea life and pieces of string. I’m sorry I want so much and do so little to actually make it happen. I know I have a way of making all of the things about me. I look down sometimes, and the world is hanging from my two feet. It’s hard to tell what isn’t mine or about me. But the poems aren’t about getting something right, they are just about trying to get something right. Just trying. Thinking about it another way. I’ll try.