Saturday, August 6, 2011

How I Got a Black Eye at a Poetry Reading

When I was studying fiction writing at the low-residency Vermont College program,  we students sent out monthly packets of blood, sweat, and tears to our professors via the USPS.  The postal clerk, half asleep, would ask, "Does this contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous?"

I always wanted to reply, "God, I hope so."

Writers want their words to hold compressed power; we want to change the way readers see the world.  We want IMPACT.

First, writing has to impact us.  Before I succumbed to the desire to write fiction (it was a struggle) I took a poetry writing workshop at my old school, Germantown Friends.  High school students and old people like me were mixed in together.  The last session of the class was to be a pot luck dinner and reading held at the home of a father/daughter duo who happened to be taking the class together.  I made a casserole, got my poems together, and parked behind several other cars along the U-shaped driveway.  Balancing glass dish, poems, purse, and myself, I got out of the car, took a couple of steps, and inadvertently hooked my foot on a fallen tree branch I hadn't seen in front of me.

 It was a beautiful pivot, ending in pain.  I knocked on the large front door holding my poems, and thought, "This is a dramatic entrance." Blood ran from my nose to my chin .

I missed the actual reading and the potluck.  My parents, who lived nearby, picked me up and took me to the ER with my face in a rag.  I found out later that someone had scooped the contents of the casserole back in my dish and set it out on the table with the other food.

I still have the X-ray of my skull from that evening. There was nothing broken, but I developed a  black eye worthy of a maudlin painted sunset.  I loved it when people asked me how it happened.  The incongruity!  A poetry reading!

Actually, creative writing is not for the faint of heart.  There's a huge amount of self-exposure involved with no promise of reward or fame. What we're trying to say may end up, on paper, neither liquid, fragile or potentially hazardous.  It may be as clumsy as a sprawl on the ground.

But there's no point in trying unless we shoot for something beyond our abilities.  Why stick with what  you already know how to say?    If it doesn't shake you first, how will it shake the reader?
Mine wasn't as pretty as this one.


Catherine Stine said...

Jeez, what a story, Helen! I'm not sure which is worse, the black eye, or the fact that someone scooped up the fallen casserole and then had people eat it! Gross, but you totally had me laughing.

HelenQP said...

Yeah,eating that casserole...a bit surreal. I never saw the dish again, but the people who lost it later gave me a gift. My parents sat with me endlessly in the ER, and my mother blew up a surgical glove like a balloon to entertain a fussy little boy who was with his family in the cubicle next door. (the little boy wasn't the patient, but it was pretty late by that time!)

Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

What a story! And the post title alone could sell a million copies--you should patent it!

HelenQP said...

Ah, if only one could build a writing career on titles....

But that will come, probably, in some Twitter future.