Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Story of the Collapsed Soufflé, or the Repetition of Dismissal

A chef cooks because it is something they good at it, and love to do it, despite getting criticism and the occasional negative review. I write poetry. I write poetry that moves something inside me. I love writing poetry that makes my stomach jump as if I engulfed an assortment of Mexican jumping beans, poetry that makes me want to run outside, have a cigarette and read it to my best friends over the phone (which I really do). I enjoy the process of being a poet. I enjoy being ridiculous and getting away with it by calling it postmodern literature. I enjoy being completely meticulous about submitting even though the odds are they will be rejected. Poetry happens to be my first-born child, granted I do not have ovaries and did not carry it for months; poetry fills me with an unconditional-type of love I imagine parents feel. Not to say that my child acts like a shit sometimes and I want to give it to someone.
Just like parents feel rejected when their children ask to be dropped off around the corner from school, tell them they hate them or decide to go off to college in the farthest regions of wherever – being a poet today, one must also become at home with rejection in its many forms. Having just received rejections from Black Warrior Review, Word Riot and Decomp Magazine; I didn’t have the habitual feeling of being crushed, or a thought of not writing anymore; rather I thought, “huh, what the fuck!” And, went on with my day. Although early in my poetic deployment rejections would make me die a little inside, well, okay… maybe a lot. Sometime I would not write for weeks after receiving one of those bland, automated rejections. So dumb!! If rejections offered more of a why, or some direction or even a hint of humanity – I would perhaps take them more seriously, but they don’t – so I won’t. Getting them for me has now become more of a “meh!” I acknowledge the rejection and keep going.

I think the hardest part of being a poet (at this stage of my career) is finding your audience, niche, following and/or readers; well, this has proven to be my biggest dilemma. I don’t know where I fit. I am 28 and have many more rejections than acceptances. Some would say this is normal, I feel it is bullshit. There is nothing normal about strangers that know nothing about you to tell you that you are not good enough on a continuous basis, but they are thankful you let them read your work. Alas, poetics have always worked this way and such are the dues of a young poet – and please believe—I am paying.

It is as Ntozake Shange wrote in her poem, somebody almost walked aff wid alla my stuff,

not my poems or a dance I gave up in the street
but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff
like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
this is mine/ this aint yr stuff/
now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self

As I touched on earlier rejections at some points in my poetic journey have caused me to question my place in this canon. Specifically, editors have sometime almost walked off with all of my “stuff, “all of my inspiration, all of my talent, all of my thrill. Sometimes unknowingly resulting in what Sheri (my shift supervisor at work) and I like to call a “rolling funk.” A rolling funk is a phase when you are sad, depressed, and moody for no feasible reason, these funks are usually unexpected and their triggers are generally not known. My rolling funks allow me time to “hang out in my own self,” and figure me out (dramatics and all). In addition, they give me time to be quite and still within myself, which I think is healthy when they come on a sporadic basis. Now if I start to have rolling funk after rolling funk after rolling funk, I may need to seek medical help…haha.

I write poetry. Just like the chef with a fallen soufflé keeps on, keeping on – I do this in my poetry, I like to lay around in bed with it, sit it on the moon and fish it down when it’s done – I let it curl in my imaginary sister’s hot comb. When inspiration hits me, I have no choice but to write. It has to come out of me, as a placenta has to come out after a baby is born – it is mandatory and natural.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mirror Mirror: The Lady of Shalott and Me Cast as Twins in a Phallic Prison

However, not always as pretty, green or wet as Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, I find myself more often than not relating to the great poem. Tennyson must have been some type of fortuneteller because how was he to know that in 2011 I would be suffering from the same plague as The Lady. Written over a hundred and fifty years ago, and on a base level only few things have changed for the struggling artist, or me.

She sits in her tower longing for love and a social life stuck with a duty (or job) of weaving a tapestry meant to serve as a record of her viewings. I too, long for love and a more vivid social life, and work as a dispatcher (which is the farthest profession from anything creative, lol, but bills, bills, bills). I like to think that the countless albums of facebook pictures on my profile and those of friends provide a record of my viewings of the world. My best friends (Ami K., Aviva B., Chris F., Dominique B., Jessica S., Jonathan W. and Tony C.) act as my mirror so when I lose sight of reality, or want to opt out of reality, I still have a way to be a part of reality (even if it currently isn’t mine). They keep me filled in on the goings on in the world, their lives and give me a good cursing out when I get out of control.

Several of the artistic elite have said that The Lady of Shalott is Tennyson’s depiction of a battle between art and life; while, I wholly agree, I also think this poem is about liberation. Being the feminist that I am, I quickly digest the freedom that she gains on many levels. A couple examples: 1) when she decides to leave the socially accepted interior sphere of domesticity for an outside adventure (however brief it may be) and 2) a sexual liberation by being so taken by Sir Lancelot that she no longer wants to wait to be preyed upon and chooses to leave the phallic prison to pursue him. I must say that this poem makes me think of the Chopin novel, The Awakening, which also has a female protagonist who is also an artist (against the will of her husband and society) that too chooses death in order to have the ultimate liberation: a choice.

Alas, I have gotten completely off topic, this is my blog, and I am supposed to be talking about me. I think it is so funny that I have chosen to write about my existing situation juxtaposed with The Lady of Shalott because I didn’t read the poem until I took this awful Pre-Raphaelite art class with Ami, and hated it. It is amusing that it has seemingly stuck with me… Okay okay, get on topic Jermaine and stay there… … … my current situation: I am still living in Midland, which is good and bad, and worse and better; my family and two of my best friends are here…which is great! There are really no words to say how happy it makes me to have them a five-minute drive away, to go for drinks and gossip with Chris, have young people knitting nights with Jessica (where absolutely no real knitting takes place) and to have your family is priceless. Nevertheless, I am beginning to have restlessness in the core of me, a feeling that I need to run or am hearing a knocking at a door I am not answering; and, this is why The Lady and I are cast as the reckless twins. Life for me has become like her tapestry – an interpretation of a real life. (NOTE: While I feel this way about my life, this in no way is to be taken as an indication of how I feel about my friends or family. It isn’t, I have the best friends and family, literally, I think in the world.)

As you know, this is my first blog entry in… let us just say forever, that is because I am usually unfilled. Devoid of anything to marvel at (yes, I love Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts); I feel most inspired when Jessica and I are together, but I can’t strap her to my back and keep her with me at all times, lol… I could try, but she might have an objection. Jessica told me once that I am miserable here because I choose not to exist here. She is right! I live here – I don’t exist here, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron. Here - I am another Black man that white women clutch their purses at as I walk by in the grocery store aisle, the Mexican man locks his door as I approach my vehicle parked on the other side of his, the gays here (oh Lord, Ay Dios Mio, Hail Mary, Allah – someone?... where to start with the gays here). Tired of hearing, “I’m not racist; I just don’t like Black guys.” Or “I’m married, but we can fuck around.” Or “You’re cute, but not my type.” The list goes on and on and on. I have become the tapestry and as pretty as it is, (lol… yeah, I just complimented myself) I am ready to live, to be an artist all the time, to escape.

How do you make that happen, how do you make the wind change? You don’t!! You just pray, and hope that you’re ready when the change you want... knocks. All I can do is make a promise to myself, however temporary it may prove to be, that I will attempt to exist here despite the stupidity and ignorance birthed into the local society. In addition, make it a goal to have Jessica surgically added to my back!!

As Jessica and I say, “This is what young people do,” and Tennyson wrote:

She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

I will have to live my own path, I will have to make my own choices (however, irresponsible, reckless, dangerous, naive or flighty they may be) only I can measure my own happiness. To me, courage is still knocking on doors, even after they’ve been slammed numerous times. So…here’s too continued knocking and looking out of the mirror and down onto my own Camelot.