Anticipation

February’s coming to a close, and the forecast indicates a chance of snow soon–but the gardener feels stirrings of approaching spring.

Time to buy seeds, order supplies, plan the garden. Time to mow the meadow before the ground-nesting birds get started on their spring dwellings. Last night the temperatures went well below freezing, but the winterhazel has bloomed. Snowdrops push up from leaf litter: a glimmer of white petals still held close to the stem. Waiting for a string of warm days to open up for the early pollinators.

flowers plant spring macro

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com 

Indeed, the days lengthen at last. Next week marks Spring Break for my college, and with a little more flexible time available, I hope to pin down my garden plans. Each year, I try to incorporate something innovative in the small patch of (mostly) vegetables. This year, I’m tempted to try short-season artichokes.

Thinking about the garden energizes me, gets my creative side jumping. It’s partly the anticipation–will this plant emerge, grow, thrive, fruit? Will voles and insects and viruses attack it? Will the weather cooperate? For example, I’m glad I did not plant potatoes last year–the weather was too wet. Should I take a chance on potatoes this year? (Oh, those tender new spuds lifted from the warm soil in August…)

And tomatoes! So many varieties from which to choose.

IMG_1753

Bounty (our own, in 2015)

 

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Even when the results do not pan out, even when I finally must give up on a poem that is not working, I learn a great deal about where and why a particular approach fails. This is why writing requires practice, patience, and time to analyze and reflect on what those “results” tell the writer.

Do what works, then push the envelope.

Hmmmm…artichokes in Pennsylvania….

artichoke beautiful bloom blooming

artichoke in bloom : Pexels.com

 

Advertisements

Resilience

A couple of poets whose blogs I am “touring” this year have mentioned resilience. Sometimes resilience is coupled with persistence; generally, the topic revolves around how to sustain one’s writing practice when all is not going well. When there are rejections, interruptions, failures…when the writer cannot seem to carve out time to write, when support for creative endeavors is lacking.

Kelli Russell Agodon just posted a response to Lori McNee’s 5 traits of successful artists. Sure enough, one of the five traits is resilience.

Here’s an excerpt.
~
“Successful artists are resilient. They know that success does not happen overnight – it requires hard work. These artists understand that things don’t always work out the way they expect. When they make mistakes, they focus on solutions, not on regrets. They learn from experience and experiment to improve on any success they have.”

Agodon’s response is that “some of the best poets aren’t the ones who are the best, but they are the ones who won’t stop writing, who won’t give up. They don’t let a rejection, a NO, a missed award, an overlook, stop them.” She cites the example of a colleague who does not submit work: “the rejection part was too hard to handle. It’s a loss for the readers in the world when that happens.” And then she adds:

I have made huge mistakes as a poet, from sending my Visa bill in with a snailmail submission, to missing a deadline, to writing a terrible poem and thinking it was good. We all do it (okay, maybe not mailing in your Visa bill), but mistakes will be made, failures will happen, and so what.
Keep writing.”
~
Which is resilience. I have counted myself lucky to possess the resilience trait, as it may be the thing that has kept me living with my tendency toward depression, kept me if not balanced at least…springy. If you have followed this blog for awhile, you may notice that most of the header photographs over the years have been grasses, wand-like branches, gently-bending blooms, eclipse-shadows of leaves, waterfalls. There is a reason for that: I am reminding myself to bend instead of break.
~
Criticism is valuable. Mistakes can teach. Failures are not the end of everything good in the world, even if they feel that way in the first moments. Keeping on is all we can do, really. So I am signing off now to tend to my poems, my journal, my notes–and to the tall weeds in the meadow, swaying in wind that foretells a storm.

 

Between failures

“If forced to choose between failures, poetry is probably the better one.” —Charles D’Ambrosio

~

I recently read a blog post from poet Barrett Warner that made me laugh in a rueful way…poets not taking themselves too seriously is always a good thing. The post is titled “Failure Fridays” and begins:

June is my big rejection month. I can usually count on a little rejection all the time but by the end of the semester editors and judges seem to want to wrap things up. There’s a boat to catch, or a Yankees home stand, not to mention all the summery commitments.

Yes…that often does seem to be the case with literary magazine editors, though I’m sure it’s not true of all of them. But many literature journals are supported through universities and don’t even read submissions in the summertime, which makes sense. Nobody’s home then. [For those of you who are poets,  however, the ambitious and well-organized Diane Lockward, who is also very generous, publishes a list of journals that read in summer on her site Blogalicious.]

Warner promises to make public his rejections each week in June, because, he notes, “I mean, failure isn’t so bad.” Mistakes are how we learn, often enough; but rejection from a journal is not a mistake (unless the writer has randomly sent a free verse piece to a sonnets-only publication). I often suspect rejection is not a failure, either. Maybe the poem isn’t ready for prime-time; maybe it’s too sentimental or too vague; maybe the writer left in a few clichés. Or not. Maybe the editors already had enough material or just don’t care for poems that feature chickadees or Toyotas. Maybe the editors were just not feeling the words when they read that poem. Maybe the editors have different taste from the writer.

Maybe it’s the editor who made the mistake.

~

And remember, there is a gap between these so-called failures during which one might–for example–tend to composing new work or revising older work instead of drowning in one’s sorrows. That’s what I shall be endeavoring to do this month. Wish me luck.

Ambition & failure

Some of my non-writer friends are surprised to learn that I am in the process of trying to get a new book into print. After all, Water-Rites just came out! So shouldn’t I be concentrating on selling that book and resting on my laurels awhile? To be sure this collection is a “success” before continuing on?

Those who write poetry or literary fiction, however, recognize that by the time a book finally gets published, the work in it is “old.” We are already well into new projects, working on new ideas, using new styles to express ourselves, addressing different topics. If I were to wait to write new poetry until after my book got into print, I’d probably never write another collection. The economics of the poetry world are too close to what Lewis Hyde calls the “gift economy” to imagine we can stop writing, sell a book, live off of the income and then write another one. Even many best-selling authors cannot do that. Poets are lucky to sell 500 copies of a book. We write for other reasons. Need. Love. Ambitions of a non-monetary kind.

Like all artists, poets take risks. Sometimes the changes we make in our work are not well-received. Sometimes they aren’t any good. Failure, however, can be a most excellent instructor. Sometimes, to shake myself up when the writing seems stuck, I attempt a completely different activity. Gardening clears my mind, and gardening offers many chances to fail at what I do. I’ve also tried watercolor painting, sumi ink calligraphy, modeling clay, embroidery, dancing, piano, and many other endeavors. I cannot claim to be remotely good at any of them yet each of these pursuits has taught me much…often through my lousiness.

janis ian

Janis Ian, 2012. Photo by David Sloan.

Recently, Janis Ian–singer, songwriter, science fiction author, and philanthropist–offered the commencement address at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. In her speech, Ian talked about being self-taught; being a self-taught success. And she had important things to say about failing, as well. She said, “We are rarely asked what success really represents to us, or why failure is so demeaning.” Then, she admitted that she herself had always avoided failure but that at a point in her life when she felt unhappy with everything she was producing, “I had to learn to fail before I could find my way again.”

Her approach was to take ballet lessons! At age 33. And she was awful at it, but she enjoyed doing it. Then she attempted other things at which she was terrible, and she learned to overcome some of her fear of failing.

An autodidact myself, even though I do have academic degrees, I found I could easily relate to Ian’s experiences. The part of her speech that spoke to me most was this section:

“You see, I am an artist. I believe that art saves. I believe it is often the only thing that stands between us and chaos. I have faith that while the world is crumbling, art survives. So to feel like my work was a mockery of what I could do, that I was not living up to my talent…well, it was killing me.”

Art requires us to do our best, to be ambitious and strong, to take risks and –occasionally– to fail. To fail spectacularly perhaps, or just to produce a bunch of small, humiliating, stupid failures…like dancing badly in your own room where no one can see you.

But dancing can feel so wonderful, so freeing, so different from writing! It’s worth doing badly. Sometimes when we have less at stake, we find new methods of expression and new ways to keep our fears, including the fear of failure, at bay.

~~

The full speech is available on Warren Wilson’s site here.