Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Becoming a Writer

My poetry book arrived Monday. I keep looking at the copy near my PC, amazed that it exists. It has a striking cover photo by Leslie Yerman, with the title and my name superimposed. Pictured are long, thin candles, with the flames blowing like white banners in the air, against a dark background. Leslie thought the candles echoed the title of my collection, 30th Anniversary Celebration Tour. To me the candles are Yahrzeit, memorial, candles for all the loved ones - parents, aunt, infant, friends - I write about in the poems and the memories they inspire. 


It started as a modest project - to write a few poems as I traveled to see family and friends in 2015, the 30th anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. With the exception of three brief poems about the 2014 political campaign and an even shorter poem scrawled in my little notebook in the Orlando airport waiting for my plane to New York, these would be the first poems I had ever written. 



The focus changed when I read a review in The New Yorker of Louise Gl├╝ck's latest book of poetry. She is the only poet I have ever connected with. We are the same age, and her mother recently died. Her father had died years before. Here are the lines quoted in the article that set the direction for my writing:


My mother and father stood in the cold
on the front steps. My mother stared at
     me,
a daughter, a fellow female.
You never think of us, she said.

We read your books when they reach
     heaven.
Hardly a mention of us anymore, hardly
     a mention of your sister.
And they pointed to my dead sister, a
     complete stranger,
tightly wrapped in my mother's arms.
But for us, she said, you wouldn't exist.
And your sister --- you have your sister's
     soul.
After which they vanished, like Mormon
     missionaries.



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