First Steps

Vincent Van Gogh. First Steps, after Millet. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1890

"Walk. Walk. Walk." This is what M wants to do most of the time. Still, at close to 18 months, she requires the use of both or one of my hands to steady her as we amble around the house, the yard, parks, and libraries. She is so proud and all she wants to do is practice. When I look at Van Gogh's "First Steps," I see immediately its beauty, but I also think about that poor mother's back as I massage my own. 

M's determination is admirable. And to think we are all born with such determination within us to take big, unwieldy steps that have absolutely no destination in mind. It is walking for the sake of walking, and for any writer, at the core, it is writing for the sake of writing. When I do approach writing from that space - rather than from a space of some preconceived purpose - the writing may not be better, though sometimes it is, but it's more enjoyable to me as a process. And I'm as much interested in the process as the writing. 

It's a dirty secret. You can write a poem quickly in 45 minutes. There I said it. And you can also write a poem that will take years. (More often the case). Just as each child comes to walking at his or her own pace, each poem comes into being at its pace. You can't force it - though you must take those first steps with no care as to where they may land. 

Lately, I've been neglecting this blog for a lot of reasons. Weirdly, this blog was first step for me to begin writing regularly after M's birth. The best reason why I haven't been writing on a blog is it's because I've been writing poems. I'm averaging about one poem a week and a couple of scraps. I eek, crank, crumple them out during M's afternoon nap and I usually don't write on the weekend. I don't necessarily write every weekday, but most days, I make it a priority. This seems to be working for now. I can't really write when she's there next to me, often tugging, pulling, looking cute, smiling, whining, etc.

I'm also working with Kristy Bowen at Dancing Girl Press to publish my first chapbook, Mother Tongue, which will be out this spring.  Another reason is I've been distracted by those types of things - odd jobs - that generate income. Did I mention I have an 18 month old who is more mobile and verbal? That changes things, doesn't it?  Lastly, the worst reason, is the manipulative use of data and privacy on social media, which is disconcerting and I've retreated a lot from it.

I'm excited to have three poems being published in the next few weeks. Since M was born, I have sent more poems out than ever. There is urgency when one becomes a parent, but the truth is also, urgency is very present in our world. More voices, especially overlooked and unheard voices, need to be heard. 

I can't really express this sentiment better than one of my favorite poets, Natasha Tretheway. (Anyone who knows me well knows how much I have loved, dog-eared, worn out my pages of Native Guard). During the first semester of my MFA, my professor gave us an essay she wrote "Why I Write: Poetry, History, and Social Justice." I have never forgotten it - and I often reread it to support my own writing, to remind myself of why I also write. There are times when I need something greater than my own yearning to push forward in writing - and to understand for myself why that last step - publishing and/or sharing poetry - is actually important.

Yes, you write for the sake of writing and that is where it begins, but eventually you're going to want to walk toward someone, something --  (a mother? a home? a reader?) -- who understands where you've walked from.

Vincent Van Gogh. First Steps, after Millet. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1890

Below is a favorite passage from Tretheway's essay referenced above:
Poetry matters not only because of its aesthetic beauty, but also because of the possibility of humane intelligence—its ability to teach us what we have not known, to show us what we have been blind to, to ask of us the most difficult questions regarding our own humanity and that of others. Across time and space, it shows us how we are alike, not that we are different. It asks of us that we approach the world with more openness than we might employ in our daily lives. It asks that we be more observant, more compassionate, empathetic. I write because I cannot stand by and say nothing, because I strive to make sense of the world I’ve been given, because the soul sings for justice and the song is poetry.
To that, I'll add another quote currently taped to my wall by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye whom I heard say this in an interview with Kristen Tippet on On Being "Very rarely do you hear anyone say they write things down and feel worse. It's an act that preserves you, energizes you, in the very doing of it."

And, of course, in honor of National Poetry month, and my favorite little person and poem in her own right, here's M "reading" my copy of Matthew Zapruder's Why Poetry?  To that question, one may reply, why not? 

"I was reading that..."


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