On Attention

I was listening to an On Being interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer on my way to work Wednesday. She says:

Children recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants. That means they aren’t paying attention.

But, (as she points out earlier in the discussion) children always pay attention, and I think they pay close enough attention to intuit the difference between what we say is important and what is truly important to us. The problem is not with the children.

I’ve been thinking about my role as a teacher. My role as a student. And that something, in between the two: a facilitator.

Since I see poetry as a form of facilitation, I’ve been thinking about why I write. For whom, and then again, why? To communicate, to preach, or to gain approval?

In an interview with Maria Shriver, Mary Oliver talks about not getting the mother-love she needed; the resulting “neediness” she had in terms of her relationship with her life partner. She doesn’t say whether this neediness influenced her poetry. She does say she tries to focus on the positive while writing. She explains that poetry is, for her, not therapy.

But this could also be question of the definition of “therapy”. Oliver’s focus on the positive is a deliberate choice. And, arguably, a choice that has had benefits in terms of her work, and her personal life. Her life’s story has not been swallowed by the difficulties of her childhood. Or her more recent bout with cancer. She gestures towards them in her poems, and we see the wisdom of her moving on, in the larger narrative.

At least that is how I read her work, and admire it.

But am I still writing letters to my own mother? Is my neediness what has me in a bind regarding submissions and publishing? My need for approval? For mother-love?

After not having thought about poetry-as-business, the poetry “community”, about submissions or publishing for over 5 years, returning is odd. After having published (soon) 6 collections and earning a doctorate, the idea of paying a reading fee is something I can’t really get my head around. Having had my poems published in journals before, I can’t see that it led to sales in my books. This means I am considering, after having paid for my education, my computer, I can now pay to have the opportunity for people to consider whether they will present my work to an audience who might read it.

This is why I need to answer the question of why I write, and for whom. I already paid a shrink – for years – to give me the mother-love I’ve lacked.

I do know I’m still looking for a replacement for the childhood God I lost when I discovered He was too into irony to worship. In my less self-conscious moments of writing, that is where the poetry takes me. This search.

I’ve been thinking about what Kelli Russell Agodon said about the way she weaves the details of our daily lives into poems about our common concerns.

Spanx and angst, I guess.

The first time I wrote about this, I misspelled Spanx. I am actually more than okay with that. My daily life is more often filled with words like togforsinkelser and boblejakke. But that is another challenge all together.

Angst. Yes. The question is where to focus. Angst or answers. And yet, if I am looking for answers, will I need to articulate questions? Or isn’t that exactly what poetry is? Unarticulated questions.

snowbellI may not learn to identify all of the plants along my running route by name, but I can begin with the goal of knowing more than ten. I can begin to be honest with myself about what I am making important in my life.

The snowdrops are resurrecting now. I can begin here. And I will write for anyone with same, unarticulated questions that I have.

I would love to hear your thoughts on who you write for, what your approach to publishing is…


4 Replies to “On Attention”

  1. I got interested in identifying plants back in my college years, and now I find that the naming of things sometimes acts to jog me into poetry even though poetry is more of a right-brain/holistic/non-naming behavior (in my experience). It’s the challenge of employing words to those unwordable experiences.

    Publishing is so, so different from writing. I can hardly mention them in the same breath, yet to ignore publication is to deny the whole purpose of communicating through art.

    1. Writing without hope of someone reading it is a different act than writing for oneself, isn’t it? Communication, as you say, is what most of us are reaching for. Though I suspect, there is enormous value in both activities.

  2. I cant put into words why i love your blog. You say things i feel but am silenced by this breathless life. Would you mind if i shared your blog? I find i have muddied my blog with my searching…writing why? Why? I wonder why.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Jeanne. I would love it if you share the blog. I am going to be updating it much more regularly now.


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