Sunday, March 29, 2009

So, much to my surprise, I have been invited to read my long poem "Peter Walsh" at an academic conference on Virginia Woolf. At some point last winter, I came across a "call to creative writers" from the conference organizer, who was looking for authors whose work had some creational link to Woolf's writing--although the organizer was also hoping to attract submissions from people who were not all "nice white women" who cultishly adore VW.

Alas, I had to admit that I am a white woman, though I did point out in my application that I am not always nice and am not a blind Woolf adorer: I like Elizabeth Bowen's novels more than Woolf's, and I think Henry Green's best work is at least equivalent in quality. But of course VW has her own special cachet, not so different from Sylvia Plath's. Tragedy and illness do not a great artist make, but they do sometimes make a great artist's reputation.

But back to my surprise about being asked to participate in the conference. Call it class anxiety, but I know I worry too much about the intellectual value of my work. I have spent all my life on the scholarship periphery--as daughter, daughter-in-law, academic editor, and obsessive reader of the canon. Yet I have never taken a graduate class, let alone attained a graduate degree; and my reading and writing interests are notably self-absorbed rather than objective quests for information. So being invited to read at this conference, even as a rather low-level presenter, feels remarkably strange to me. I mean, maybe real college professors will sit in a room and listen to me try to explain how and why I wrote a poem based on the name of a character in VW's Mrs. Dalloway; how the invention of my character was not a reworking of her existing character but arose from the happenstance of sound and impression; how, for a poet, language carries a weight of longing that can impel new creation.

Of course I hope I will manage to say this all more clearly when I get there.

Dinner tonight: I'm presently making beef-bone-and-porcini-mushroom stock, and I may use it as the base for some sort of risotto. I'm also thinking of making a caramelized-apple tart, but maybe the lure of college basketball will be too strong to resist and I won't "have time" for any fancy baking. 


Sheila Byrne said...

You don't have a thing to worry about. Many times, academics strive for an answer in literature, rather than reading for pleasure or discovery. Skim to find the literary elements, note the irony, characterization, broken narrative, write the paper, forget the book.

I found the conference online. It looks fascinating. I read "To the Lighthouse" last summer, up in the woods. And of course Mrs Dalloway. But people look at you funny when they find out you actually like to read that stuff- what? with no grading? Why would you read it if not to have someone evaluate your reading?

I've read Joyce, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor,Kingsley Amis, and all the poetry I can get my hands on for fun. And it is. Fun.

Your way of reading- reading to write, with no agenda or evaluatory piece looming on the horizon- gives literature and poetry what you have taken away- admiration, well-turned phrases, meaning constructed from truth.
And, a more honest appreciation of the work.

Dawn Potter said...

Sheila, you're so sweet, and I know you're right. I am the first to castigate my ambivalence as silly. But then class anxiety, in whatever form it takes, doesn't always have much rational basis. My father dislikes Henry James because he wrote about rich people. Though I might disparage that attitude, in this situation I can be as unreasonable as my dad. (And even my dad, who doesn't trust novelists who write lovingly about rich people, has a Ph.D. Sigh.) I suppose I'm trying, on this blog, to be as honest as I can about what helps and hinders not only my writing per se but my confidence as a thinking human being. In other words, fret, fret, fret.

Anonymous said...

You are the real deal. No worries. Didn't know you were a b-ball fan too. A

Dawn Potter said...

What I am is a fan of hanging out with Paul on the couch. Basketball is the couch-hangout destination du jour.