What Now?

Right before we moved to Boulder I finished my MFA. The day before, to be exact. I donned a black robe and sat in a convocation center with a dozen of my MFA peers and a few hundred other graduate students from disciplines other than arts, or something more directly applicable to employment (more on this later). How thrilled was I when I discovered my very own teacher and poetry star would deliver the address. This couldn’t be skipped, despite my vague thoughts around the tiresome ceremonial gesticulations and my own eagerness to be “done” (never done, obviously). Tim read us his best zombie poem and lovingly warned the whole damn room to wake up and don’t be zombies. Don’t lose yourself to the ever-beckoning screens. I was rapt, of course, and nodded vigorously the whole time, just like I was in lecture or workshop or reading. Women tend to nod as audience members far more than men, big surprise. Bridget taught me this last summer, among so many other things about gender and power. Later, as the names droned on and we marched onstage to shake hands and not pick up a real diploma, a man in front of me muttered that the poet went on way too long. Imagine my disdain, and also my tinge of righteousness. Oh, you just didn’t get it, sir. But then I had to remind myself that most people don’t get poetry, and that’s why it will forever be embedded in the American consciousness as a lesser art, a replaceable art, something too confusing and too emotional to ever gain respectable traction beyond the freaks and the academics. This always brings me back to Muriel Rukeyser, a woman Tim introduced me to in the very first semester of my MFA, three years ago, a real game-changer moment. Rukeyser knew all too well about the “failure between poetry and its people—its writers and audiences.”  She kind of describes poetry as lost opportunity (my words, not hers. I’ve read and re-read her passages so many times I’ve begun to co-opt them, no doubt). Meaning, poems are an invitation, to be awake (see Tim) and alive and emotionally and intellectually conscious, but we resist that invitation all the time. We are too afraid to go there. It’s stunning to me how vital and contemporary her words are, yet Rukeyser was championing this stuff in the 1940s. Still so relevant. In recent years, Brené Brown has made herself rich and famous as a major proponent of this very same content. It’s vulnerability, guys. That’s it. Not everyone is going to get it from poetry, but the invitations are all around us, every day, to be more awake and yes, more vulnerable. And most of us ignore ignore ignore. I’m not suggesting I’ve got this all figured out, nor am I super good at it (I fail at this business of vulnerability pretty often), but what I know for sure is that poetry has been, and will always be, a way for me to go there. Few other things in my life have stripped me down to my bare bones in this way, but quitting drinking and immersing myself in yoga practice and getting married have all allowed me to do the same work. What now, though? In the weeks since graduating and moving across the country I’ve allowed the what now thought into my head. I mean, of course I have. What now about everything but also what now about post-grad school reentry into the “real world,” what now every time I listen to the fucking news or look at internet muck, what now whenever I succumb to shitty moods and judgment and yes, grief. One friend said I would feel a palpable grief after the MFA that could last for months, and maybe longer. I feel that, but then again I feel grief regularly for a lot of things. I’ve been this way since I was a kid, maybe since the year my father died, but anyway a little grief seems to keep my juices flowing. It’s muddied up right now in my insides with homesickness and fear and also giddiness for something new each day. I know I am privileged to even feel this grief. There wasn’t a time during the MFA when I let myself forget how utterly lucky I was to study poetry for three years. What now? I came across a call for submissions that asked for reflections on “Your first post-MFA summer: What did/will you do?” And I won’t answer all of those questions here, and I won’t submit a video to that contest, but I smiled to myself and reveled a little bit in the universality of the thing I’d stumbled into. Universal in the niched world of MFA grads, I suppose (not very universal at all). If I submitted to that contest, it would be filled with one I don’t know after another—a whole sea of vulnerability. I won’t rate my experience. I won’t assess it. I won’t boil it down to me before, and after. I won’t pretend to know what it meant or what it will do for me. When I got to Boulder, after graduating, I did what I always do. I set up my house and I got a job. It feels good to make a little money and smile at people and be of service. I think about poetry sometimes while I’m waiting tables but mostly I just do my work and try to take a big breath every once in a while. Try to stretch my back and laugh at myself when I get super annoyed with the men that stand in my way on the patio and behave as though I am invisible. I’m privileged to be here, too. I’m writing a little every day and I’m fucking terrified to let go of my writing, so I won’t. I’m not going to. Sometimes I look back at what I write and I still, after all these years, literally can’t tell if it’s brilliant or awful. Every single time. I don’t know if there’s a more universal writer experience. Most of the time though, I think it’s probably just fine, it’s somewhere in the middle, and I persist. It just matters that I’m going there, getting a little vulnerable, and a little less afraid. The jobs will come and go. I’ll start teaching again, soon enough. But what now, for now, is just this.