Thursday, May 1, 2014

During the throes of our bleak winter, I spent some time sorting through the stack of poems I've written during the past couple of years. Most are related to my western Pennsylvania research, but a significant number of new pieces--for instance, my long poem about Mr. Kowalski--aren't part of that project. As I sorted, I kept sensing a synchronicity--some connection overriding yet interacting with the historical theme: as if the two sets of poems were functioning as a seventeenth-century letter does, one page written crosswise over the other: a purposeful way to save paper, an accidental way to mesh disparate thoughts.

So I began mixing up poems from both stacks, trying first one combination and then another, and I started to see a common theme. These are poems about working, about not working, about finding meaning or hopelessness in work, about the work that others expect of us, about the work we expect of ourselves, about the work that happens when we are not paying attention, about the work that we destroy or that others destroy for us. This seemed like a starting point, so I kept at the task--adding and removing poems, switching their order, switching their order again--until I had a chapbook-sized manuscript of poems that I called Vocation.

But what should I do with it? The first thing I did was use the writing sample in my applications for the various state and federal grants that I pessimistically fill out every year. I rarely win anything, and the process of applying is aggravating and arcane; but on the other hand, the applications are free, so what do I have to lose other than an innocent belief in the efficacy of government?

And then I impulsively decided to enter a major chapbook contest. I tried to talk myself out of it. I told myself that this would be a waste of $25; I reminded myself that I hate the contest model of poetry publishing; I fretted over my immorality. Then I said, "What the hell," and pushed the send button.

Today, on this dark and rainy morning, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., groaned, clutched my Aged Pensioner back, and hobbled downstairs to wake up my son. I made a fire in the woodstove, I made the boy's lunch, I made coffee; and while the coffee was brewing, I looked at my email messages and discovered that Vocation is a finalist for the major chapbook prize.

Here's the first poem in the manuscript.

Statement of My Creative Interests

Dawn Potter

Death, by which I mean the sudden death
of snuff bottles and weeping willow trees,
undiagnosed roads littered with sorrows,
and postal clerks languishing along the canals.

And Sex, of course. That goes without saying.
The insatiable queen; the pale and ruminating
heifer; the snails, incompatible on a blue plate.
(You see how the links begin to accrue.)

To a certain degree Love,
but with a teaspoon of Despair—
star-crossed bats, an aging incognito ragdoll,
three Polacks stumbling into a bar.

Not Hate so much as Grudging Defeat,
as when day breaks on time
or the sparrow scorns her basin of chickweed
while the furnace belches rank and artless air.

Although Wonder, without a doubt.
Those curious prosthetics, those animalia
with their clever hums and coos,
those quivering visions of Albion.

And Yearning, always Yearning:
the one-eyed child leaning out of the highchair,
the lord protector pacing his damp yew walk
as the Calydonian hunter straggles after the boar.

[first published in Solstice Literary Magazine (summer 2013)]


Maureen said...

I am thrilled for you, Dawn.

Dawn Potter said...

Maureen, thank you! This is a very unexpected result: so much so that I'd more or less forgotten I'd entered the contest.

Sheila W. said...

Congratulations Dawn! I love "Statement of my Creative Interests" and it strikes a chord with many people -- a friend posted it on her FB page and people really responded. If by some chance you don't win, it sounds like you have most of your next full-length book written and assembled!

Dawn Potter said...

Oh, Sheila, thank you! [P.S. My next full-length book is nowhere close to being done. It will be a tome and all publishers will be horrified.]