The first poem I remember writing was an ugly little thing, sort of like the bird house a kid makes at day camp, or the drawing a three year old slaps under a magnet on the refrigerator, hoping for greater things to come. The message of that poem was how impossible it would be to resurrect a specimen long stored in a jar of formaldehyde. Well, we all start somewhere, and at least no one was hurt in my experiment.
I remember standing in the kitchen of our house in East Sebago–a small town with no movie theater, no shopping center, no center at all, so what was a girl to do but mess around with words? My mother was at the sink, getting ready to boil the dirty dishes. She had a big aluminum dishpan that she filled with soapy water and left it full of dishes to heat on the wood stove. I suppose that was either a domestic shortcut, a hygiene tactic or disguised procrastination. I never questioned her dishwashing for fear of getting trapped into washing them myself. But I do remember reading her that short, ugly poem. If she paid attention at all her response was as tepid as that dishwater.
Maybe I shocked her, worried her: Oh, shit, this girl’s literary but has no talent. Either she’ll starve or I’ll be feeding her forever. But if she thought that, she didn’t say it out loud. Nor did she rave and display that embarrassing bit of dreck on the refrigerator. Her neutral response was a harbinger of what I still get often: Thanks for sending this. Good luck publishing it elsewhere. And, writing friends, that’s what we get, elsewhere, right? No false praise, no advice to find paid employment. So why, why, why, do we keep scribbling? I can’t answer for you, but I can’t stop. As my friend Cyndeth says, writing is like chocolate; in moderation it soothes, energizes and satisfies. At least writing makes as much sense as boiling the dinner dishes.