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  • The Farm is Still There

    To kill time during a break at the high school where I teach English (yes, teachers also procrastinate), I decide to watch an online video of Donald Hall being interviewed by poet Elizabeth Spires. Hall’s scruffy presence and magnetic personality immediately draws me in. He begins by reading poems about the passing of renowned poet Jane Kenyon, his wife of many years, who died of leukemia. Then shifting topics, Spires, the interviewer, asks Hall about a poem he wrote for children. Hall says he remembers the poem, but that it wasn’t “successful.” Spires expertly presses the poet on why it wasn’t successful and Hall’s response is that poem didn’t make any money. What a strange concept for today’s hypercompetitive times, I thought. A poet who measures success monetarily? If I did that, I’d have to immediately quit writing poetry or begin a slow spiral toward starvation and madness. But that was just one of the topics that struck me watching this poet-hero of mine.

    The second thing was his response to the compulsory question what is your advice to young poets? Hall says what we’d all expect him to say, that young poets have to learn to revise, revise, revise. Of course, I agree, but I must admit I don’t revise nearly as much as Hall describes in the interview— going through many drafts, seeking the opinions of others on his work, having relied heavily on his spouse’s advice and editorship. Two problems: who has the time to revise this much today and to do this much legwork on a poem? I hold a full time job, I’m raising two small kids, and I am happily married, and the happily part does take work you know. I have no time no patience nor any real reason—existential or otherwise— to sit on a poem for months on end. Add to that, the interminable stretch it takes editors to get back to you (3 Elements exempted) and you could be waiting years before earning even a single publishing credit to your name.

    Even if I felt I had the time or the spiritual patience or whatever, I still believe age-old poetry writing habits are limited in that they have always produced the same type of clean, acceptable, “award winning” poetry. I love Donald Hall, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want to write like him. I don’t relate to this type of process even if I enjoy the end product. These habits, which Donald Hall enumerates in the video, the same habits most creative writing schools push, are, in my opinion, outdated and outmoded models for poetic creativity in the 21st century. What works for me? What process is more aligned with today’s reality for busy well-rounded poets? I finish a poem in one writing session (an hour or two max), correct it for “errors and inconsistencies,” a tag taught to me by my mentor and professor Gary Snyder at U.C. Davis— I wait a day or two to let the poem breathe a bit or until I have the energy to look up where to send it and off it goes, accompanied by four more siblings, ready to face those anonymous stern-faced critics who stand between them and Mount Parnassus. And I stick to the online magazines. The people who work on these new publications seem to love poetry much more than the well-established print magazines who only care about promoting that one type of allusion-laden, semi-experimental, obscure (in a bad way) poetry we are all overly conditioned to admire so much.

    Too impetuous? Perhaps. Maybe this process only works for me or applies to people of a certain temperament, but you’d be hard pressed to find an American poet who doesn’t live a harried life and who can peaceably afford to wait so long and to mull things over as much as our heroes once did. Do not fret my poetry companions. The farm is still there, you can still write about it, but it’s not the same farm, it’s not the same garden or the same orchard. Blink twice. The farm, the garden, and the orchard are pixelated and you’re too damn tired to wait in line at the post office or to buy the right kind of envelope.

    By Alejandro Escudé, author of “My Earthbound Eye,” published by Sacramento Poetry Center Press. Alejandro has a poem forthcoming in issue three of 3Elements Review entitled “6324 Kejonuma.”

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