Empowerment through Language...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Six Decades...Mind Boggling...My Annual Birthday Letter - 2013

Good morning to all those who honor and bless my life in innumerable ways...and thank you for making this a life of rewards and bounty.

It is my custom to send a note, an update, a message of gratitude to colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and family, all those I admire as the first act of the day on my birthday. Some of you will receive this for the first time, some of you have gotten every one since I started this tradition, which I believe is tied to the move into my home in 2000. I have lost track. I never really pre-plan the message, I just sit down to the keyboard and speak my heart. So here is the 2013 version...the beginning of GAP Fest 60.

It is hard to imagine that 60 years ago today, on Scott Field Air Force Base in Illinois, my mother was in labor with me at this time. She once shared that doctors told her I was likely to be stillborn and that she was in jeopardy due to toxemia. She was 18, my birth father was 22. Betty Ann put everything she had into bringing me into the world and at 4:40 p.m., I made what I can only imagine was a grand entrance. We always joked that I came in time for dinner.

It has been a very tumultuous journey in so many ways. But there is also a great deal of evidence that I am rich beyond reason with the love that surrounds me and how it manifests for my highest good always. That is the sum of all of you and everyone who benefits me with their own light, including all of my students over the years, the teachers I am honored to work with, the people at the many jobs I have held, and especially my family, who are those who have weathered the storms with me all this time.

I am the first born of the first born. That has always seemed to be a very significant legacy. It came with certain responsibilities, even at an early age. Now, as I look at it all thus far, I am also looking forward to what I can accomplish and how much there still is to embrace.

This year I have contemplated turning 60 with a host of emotions. It is different than other birthdays, even the milestones. There is something sobering about it all. I was very challenged by the concept, particularly because I did things rather backwards in the life plan and I have witnessed so many I know in my age bracket making plans to relax and take life more easily because they have reached retirement age. I was concentrating on my fear of the instability and vulnerability that is evident and unsure about how I will ever be able to afford to be elderly. But I am not as afraid today. I have worked through still another dark period and I feel renewed.

Last year this time, I adopted Enza, the puppy whuppy...she has been such a positive force in my daily life. For one thing, she makes me laugh. She is a wonderful dog and being. She and I have acclimated to each other and we have a great life together. I am so very grateful that she is here, even when I forget and leave the bathroom door open so she has access to the dirty underwear or I leave something on the counter thoughtlessly that she devours. Those problems are all on me...she is a dog. It is her nature to get into mischief.

The day before my birthday in 1999, I did a viewing of this home in which I now live. It was for sale at a price that is unfathomable and, with help from a dear friend, I pursued the purchase. It was the kitchen that spoke to me. I knew I was destined for this home. I had declared it more than a decade before when I lived around the corner on S. Beech St. From the back porch of that apartment, I could see the big deck that the owners at the time had built and I said to myself, "I would love to own a home with a deck like that someday." I did not realize it was a prophecy. I thought it was just a dream. Now it is my joy.

I love to entertain and to cook for others. I love the sound of laughter in my home. For that reason, I chose to celebrate this landmark birthday with an open house to welcome all who are able. It seemed the most fitting, especially since I did not make it to Tuscany for the celebration, as I had hoped for a couple of years. It is just not in the cards right now but I will return at some point and spend a long time writing and enjoying the sun. But this year, the door is open all day and evening to any and all. I hope to see many of you who live locally. The rest of are in my heart so you will catch the vibe, that I am sure.

This year, I think I have achieved a turnaround from all the fears of the last few years. It is still new that I feel confident that everything is okay. But there are some key indicators. I love my work and work is becoming more available again. I spend less time in schools than I did throughout the first decade of this century. But I have steady work again and all of it is centered on my skills and true identity as a writer. I am most grateful for this and look forward to this continuing for a long time. I like a pay stub that has my job title listed as "writer/editor."

I am writing consistently and I have achieved a level of craft that fills me with joy. I used to dream that perhaps one day I would be able to write fine poetry. I am reading the work that is new and I see the glimpse of what I have always hoped to be able to create. It is a level of artistic maturity that can only come from years of pursuit. I hope this does not sound too bold. I do not mean to brag, but I marvel at what the creative inspiration has gifted to me to bring forth. I am never complacent in my writing, as you know.

The greater indicator is that I can announce that my third collection of poetry, Psalter: The Agnostic's Book of Common Curiosities will be released by Tiger Bark Press in early 2015. I am so very honored and excited about this. It would take me a long time to articulate all the reasons so take it from me to be the case that I am giddy. And rather amazed that I can say "My third book of fourth book in print."

But I have two other books at least half done and am diligently working on them. I have some essays for the memoir project with my dear friend Linda Moore, and I am starting a book on the craft of writing as I view and teach it. I have much to get to the page before I am willing to move on from this body consciousness. I pray for the time to do so.

I also am moving toward completing my BA in the next couple of years. This unfinished business is surmountable and I will finally do it. In my invitation to the birthday open house this coming Saturday, I mentioned that I certainly need no more stuff to jam into this house. But if folks were inclined to, contributions to the college fund would be gratefully received. I will meet this goal, just as having the house with the deck, the books in print, the full life I live have come to fruition. And that will be a great unburdening when I walk the stage at graduation.

I have always envisioned being quite an old woman when my time comes. I hope it is true. But I can also say that I expect no guarantees and take a daily inventory of my life. I ask myself just about every evening before I sleep if I am at ease with it all. If I were to close my eyes this evening and drift off, if it were the last time, I am fine with that as well. I have an understanding of living in the moment that is natural to me now. I get the value of the moment. I don't have any answers about the universe and life. other than it is here to make the most of with a sense of humble marvel. And all of it is made worthwhile by the company a person keeps. Therein lies my storehouse of riches...each of you.

Thank you for making life beautiful. Thank you for bringing me into your lives. There is no greater honor...I am so very grateful for the opportunities you present to me. You have supported me in so very many ways.

Have a glorious day and remember that you are cherished, each of you, especially by me.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Special Purpose Redefined

So it has been a rough few years, as I have bemoaned in my last few, sparse postings. It was a time of deep digging to my own truth and often it was not pretty. There was a darkness that was as thick as tar, as persistent as eczema, as stark as the tundra. But enough of the metaphors. I am returning to the light heart, the sun, the optimism that has fueled me through most of the storms of my life. I am choosing to look forward with joy.

I have always known my selfhood is anchored in being a poet. There are those whose lofty sensibilities cause them to say, "I cannot claim the title of poet; only the greats can do that." I wholeheartedly disagree. I claim it fully and truly. I spent a decade questioning, even denying it, but my world is more balanced when I acknowledge that poet is who I am, what I do, what I crave, what I teach, how I live. And at last, I am producing work that is a glimpse of that level of development and persistence that I have dreamed of achieving. It is rather remarkable because it is just appearing on the page.

I am not a complacent person. Especially with my writing. I will not accept too many iterations before I annoy myself. I now strive to be a poet with many dimensions in the work, when I once accepted a 2-dimensional postcard with a pretty image and perhaps a clever metaphor. This means I do not write every image or sound that drifts through my head. I also wait for the poem that refuses to not be written, the poem that will not silence itself, that one that requires ink and attention. Sometimes they slam onto the page with no prior warning. Sometimes they tarry in the gray matter until they feel fully prepared to reveal themselves. But they are arriving with regularity and I am thrilled.

I will be seeing my third collection of poetry come into physical being in about 14 months. My fourth is half complete, a fifth is a third complete, and I have nonfiction working at me. I will also plan on blogging much more often, with regularity, about anything that I feel like writing. 

I started this blog to share my experiences as a teaching artist. That led to the writing and publication of Our Difficult Sunlight. Now I will share whatever, with a focus on my perspective on what it takes to write a good word, line, stanza, poem, cycle, chapbook, collection. It will be fun, I hope. Outrageous at times. Silly or poignant. Not sure. I do know it will be me...Georgia A. Popoff, Community Poet, Human Being.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

She's BAAAAACCCKKKK!!! And some other things...#poetshappydance

Dear readers...I have been on a rocky little journey but it is time to get busy with my blog once again and share the marvelous discoveries I encounter as I teach and clarify what I believe about poetry...and life.

This summer I have been teaching two short courses at the Downtown Writers Center that have been joyous in the student participation and the conversations around the table. The first 4-week class was "Why Is This a Poem?" The course was at the special request of a wonderful regular of our classes and he kicked it all off with a packet of poems he had come across in his reading. Then I found all sorts of poems that would make us challenge our own suppositions about the building blocks of a poem, starting in the early 20th century through very current poets. We came to the conclusion that the most significant factor of whether or not a piece is a poem was that the poet declared it.

There is no limit of possibilities but one thing I truly believe: there is nothing I can do as a poet that will change the course of literature in general or poetry, specifically. Everything that could possibly do that has already been done, by poets such as Basho, or Whitman, or Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings, Anne Waldman, and countless other innovators.

What I can do is always strive to listen to the poems that ask me to bring them to the page and do my very best to honor them with craft and intention. I can attempt to give every poem the time and consideration it requires to achieve its fullest potential. I can work at not rushing a poem beyond its natural maturation. And I can encourage my students to do the same.

The second class I have been teaching is "Cycles and Series." This was the result of an urge to look with students at their bodies of work and recognize the patterns, habits, obsessions, and trends that are present, whether we intend them or not. I will be sharing thoughts from this class over the next couple of weeks and I am intending to develop the course into an on-line opportunity. 

So often we are so concerned with the single page before us and the black scrawls scarred into it. We look at the page and quietly say, "I love you so are so good..." or we shiver with how we feel we have failed the poem, which is simply an opportunity to try a different approach. We frequently do not think in terms of the relationships they set up of their own volition. There is a surprise hiding in those files. Go will possibly have reason to do the what I lovingly refer to as the poet's happy dance.

I will write again soon with more. In the meantime, you can also follow me on Twitter: @gappoet and look for little thoughts under the hashtags of #poetshappydance and #invisiblereaderbehindthewords.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Early Daylight Saving Time and the Darkness Is Lifting
As I have mentioned in my brief blogging in the past months, I have been coping with a rough road. Redefining my career twice in 5 years has taken its toll, particularly as I am, as in the sage words of my dear friend Cathy Gibbons, basking in my late 50s and fearful of the vulnerability I face in a multitude of ways, not just in aging. I loved my work with Partners for Arts Education and I have loved my work in schools, for the most part. But this last couple of years of cobbling things together, hinging so much of it on the hope that Our Difficult Sunlight would translate into miraculous opportunities to deepen that work, I am seeking focus and stability. I need to find ways to continue doing what I do well and to support myself while fostering my work and identity as a poet.

I love everything I am involved with, most particularly my work with the Downtown Writers Center and the Comstock Review. I have been scattered over much of 2012 and now I feel there is more solid ground, I am clarifying my focus and commitment to both. One is a job, one is a volunteer act of love. The job is part time so, satisfying as it is, it is only a portion of what I need to keep the wolves at bay. I am working on additional income that is reliable, satisfying, and close to home.

I love working in schools but I am weary of it, all the stress, the travel, the negotiation, the ways I have to always be ready to shift in the immediate, the walking into classrooms that are unprepared for my lessons, the compressing a carefully designed program into half the time the process of learning actually requires. I do like the teachers (mostly), the students (mostly), the ways I learn more about teaching, and I love sharing my passion. I also love the checks when they arrive. I just am exhausted by it all, after 13 years of pursuing it as a career. And I am tired of being a living "Where's Waldo" book for my family and friends. I see much of the sacrifice that this career has entailed as well as the gains.

The real issue is that I have known my identity most of my life, at least since 3rd grade. I am a poet. I am relentlessly committed to that truth, even in the quiet decade in which I did not write and my faith was seriously challenged. But the words came back, as I had prayed. In the 20 years since, I have published consistently, with a chapbook, two complete volumes, and the textbook all in print. I have another collection being considered by a publisher now (I asked if he wanted first rights of refusal but am hopeful). I am working on two other collections of poetry that I am really excited about, a food memoir that is languishing somewhere in files on my computer, and now I know I am ready to start the notes that will result in a book on the craft of this confounding, amazing art form that is the spine of my soul.

There was a moment in the quiet time of my 30s to early 40s when I knew that I was being delivered back to the channel that results in poetry. No one but me would be able to decipher the difference. It was a cellular memory of what translating experience into image and language feels like. But now, I am experiencing another deepening of that jolt in the work I am producing. There is a maturity of craft that has come through years of teaching others what I believe about poetry and expression. It helps that I teach people in so many circumstances with such a wide range of age and skill. I have to make it tangible for anyone.

But the poems are surprising me. That is a great thing. They are mirroring to me how much I have embraced the notion that we teach what we want to learn. I hear and see the influence of all the poets I have taught as examples echoed in the images that unfold before me as I strive for the best word and challenge every syllable to earn its right to be spared the slash of my revision pen. I see complexity without obscurity. I hear musicality that makes me wonder where it even came from. The poems are in control and I am a diligent listener as well as servant.

I am close to solving the income problem but I also have the pining to spend my days just reading and writing and pondering and doing all those things that make a poet's life. Instead, I am sneaking things in around the obligations, even this blog post, and somehow getting books written, the bills paid once again, and seeing family and friends more frequently. I even have a dog. I think the spring will bring more growth, stronger roots, and maybe cause for celebration.   


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Attachments, Assumptions, & Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

This school year, I have been rocked to my very core by a small number of 4th graders. I already mentioned in my previous post the kinds of concerns I was grappling with and the questions I have. I hoped that I would erode the barriers and we would start to have fun, as well as get something productive and creative accomplished. Now, with just a month left with this session of the after school program, my goals are to get through one complete 100-minute session without struggle and conflict, both with me and between themselves.

What I have seen are small indicators that I have somehow managed connection with several of the students, even if it does not look like it on the surface. One student will periodically draw me a little picture or write a note, "Ms. Popoff is my favorite teacher." Another will sometimes just stand close and tell me stories or share his feelings. These feelings are often of fear and alienation. Last week, this young man told me he wanted to be called by his middle name from now on. I agreed to comply but asked why the change. He said that he was tired of people never saying or spelling his name correctly so he was choosing the middle name, thinking it would be easier for people. Having changed my own last name partially from the same motivation, I understand the value of naming and how it impacts identity and self. I wonder if anyone else is honoring this young man's choice? I wonder if he articulated that he made a choice to anyone but me? I wonder if he was surprised when I addressed him by his chosen name rather than his given name when I saw him again this week?

Another boy asked me to hold his book for him last week until our next class two days later. Distracted with dismissal  procedures, I agreed but then did not know where the book came from so I left it on the shelf in my host teacher's room, making the erroneous assumption it would stll be there upon our return or, if it had been one of her books, we could read from it again. The teacher saw it was a library book and returned it. The boy came into our session and asked for his book and then my error in our communication was revealed. The boy felt betrayed and showed me quite graphically in a series of pictures he drew. He captioned me as a liar. We exchanged drawings as our way of working out the affront and I have saved the paper as a reminder of how simple actions can violate trust. I also prayed on it. I did not acquiesce fully but I heard him. He heard me too. I hope  he learned as much as I did.

Yesterday, one of the boys ran to me when I arrived, proclaiming that we had to make the day the best ever for one of his classmates. This girl has been my greatest challenge from day one. But there is something under her tough and tumble tomboy exterior that is sweet and yearning. I  asked the boy if it was the girl's birthday and he said, "No, today's her last day."  I asked if she as leaving the program and he said no again, she was moving away.

I quickly went to the young lady and said, "You are leaving me?! I am so sad. Where are you going?"

Then my heart became broken and some of my assumptions about this child were confirmed. She shared that her  father was murdered a number of years ago and  the family had to move because the person responsible was back on the street. The family was leaving the state.

We did our best to make her departure a good one. I did my best to let her know that I cherish her  being. I did so without being gushy. She would never approve of that. But I did  stand by her side while she waited the last time for her bus. I did repack her backpack, which was akwardly jammed with papers and notebooks. I did wish her luck and tell her I love her. I meant it.

She says she is keeping the small note commending her I left folded by her hand, that she will put it on her bulletin board in her new room. She showed the note to her friends before putting it in her pocket.

Driving home, I held back my tears. I will never see her again. I will never forget her. I will never forget her. I will never forget her.

Next week I will walk back into class and try to engage the remaining children in my group again.