Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dorothy Barresi and her "Cathedral of expletives"

Last Thursday, as I continue on with my exploration of this post-grad slump and clamor my way up the walls out of the poetry barren ditch I have fallen into, I attended another reading at my alma mater and listened to the fabulous Dorothy Barresi. Now I realize that by only attending readings in my safety zone, I may not seem as though I am actually clamoring up any walls at all, but rather staying in a place of comfort and familiarity. I argue that when in a post-grad slump, you find any way you can to claw, dig, fight your way out of it. My brilliant artist for a cousin, Phyllis Ginter, tried to post the following on the blog, (but it didn't like her that day). She wrote, "You'll hit those slumps from time to time. The tedious tasks of life, like pesky day jobs, laundry and grocery lists can pull your focus away from your art, but you can pull it back. You've already started. Go listen to good poets. Listen to bad poets. Jiggle your brain cells by checking out the best of other art forms. Go someplace you have never been before. An unfamiliar place. It doesn't have to be exotic, it can be really ordinary. What are the stories in that place, what is the feeling? You know what I mean?" And many dear poetry friends have given similar advice, so I say, attend whatever reading you can, no matter where it is, as long as it gets you back out there.

So, Dororty Barresi... well, she's absolutely fabulous. She seamlessly roves from humorous, imaginative poetry to lyrical stylings that touch on all the realms of life. Death and mysticism, questioning the world, playful, smart, witty, from Religion to being a mother and even connecting "Grendel's Mother" in with it all; it seems there is no subject, no feeling she can't conquer. I am in the process of reading her latest book, American Fanatics, and have heard only fabulous things from people regarding it. It's not often that every person I talk to about a single book all give it rave reviews, so I am eager to soak it all in.

What was so perfect about me attending this reading were some of the things Dorothy talked about after during the question and answer period. She talked about when she first sits down to write and how it always begins with "the terror of the blank page." Being a full-time teacher and mother, she knows all too well about finding time to write. She usually only finds time in the "off-season" of teaching. To keep her writing brain going, she keeps a language journal. When she said this, I was elated! I've done this for years and just felt like a word geek. But she uses hers to "shop around for a cool idea [so she] can begin hacking something out." It is a place where all the language she loves can come together whether it be a word from the Bible or an expletive that she loves so, they inspire her to begin to writing again, to help her get over that terror.

Dorothy also talked about the revision process, vital as we all know, and apparently she is never happy. She endlessly revises, moves commas and lines, words, anything. She calls it an "ugly process." Ironically though, she writes in lines, not full sentences later broken. She also says " it is emotionally healthy to share your work," but she herself opts not to do so. Instead she finds "pleasure in burrowing in there [the place of solitude where she writes]."

So as I continue my "quest," I find that I am not so alone and that even fabulous, successful writers like Barresi, they too get lost sometimes in the real world. We just have to find inspiration wherever we can, whether like Barresi who is continuously inspired by her students, or listening to any poets we can find, shopping through a language journal, or exploring a new place and figuring out it's story; it's all a process, and I guess this is just all part of mine.

Thanks for all of the response and please continue to follow. Look for the upcoming review of David Romero's Diamond Bars The Street Version.