The Autumn of My Discontent
By Kristen Roach Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Recently, as I was getting my thesis manuscript together, I discovered something interesting. I had all of the poems for the manuscript chosen, and wanted to group them into thematic sections. I thought I might move from the most internal poems to the most far-reaching. I could start with personal poems, then personal environment and relationship poems, followed by persona poems, and finally poems that dealt with the broadest human environments.
The manuscript wasn't quite ready, but I was taking a revision break and thought I'd get a jump on the next step. I had several poems - eight or so - that I thought still needed a lot of work. They didn't say exactly what I wanted them to say, or they didn't say it completely enough. They felt tentative instead of bold, muddled instead of clear, and asked the reader to bring in much more of the poem, rather than being generous. In general, the lot of them made me uneasy. Which is what led to the break-taking in the first place.
I scribbled down the categories and wrote the titles of the poems that fit into each section. To my surprise, the sections were pretty evenly populated. Most of my favorite poems were in the second half of the book, so I wasn't certain I'd organize it this way. But I had a start. I grabbed the paper where I'd noted which poems needed work, so I could put all my info in this newly drafted table of contents.
Here's the good part, where I realized my thesis wasn't nearly done, and I needed to learn some major things. The poems I wanted to revise were all in the "personal" category. Not only that, but every poem in the personal category was noted as needing revision. Being a pretty logical person, I wanted to argue that correlation is not causation. The fact that I wanted to change all of the poems where I cast myself as me was just coincidence, right?
Not right. Otherwise known as wrong. Coming into the program, I wrote almost entirely confessional poetry – aye me, and all that. Through my studies, I’d gotten good at expressing myself as someone else – an Amish girl, or a Zapoteca Indian from Oaxaca. I’d managed to tackle major events in my poems, like 9/11 and the AIDS epidemic of 1980’s New York. I had done some serious growing, and I was really proud to get beyond my self. Taking on topics that were larger than me had been a great challenge; what made the poems work is that the subject connected to my core.
So why were the poems that were actually about my circumstances not nearly as rooted? I hadn’t completed that pesky tail end of the hero’s journey. I had gone on my quest, gained knowledge from the people of the world and their stories. But the value of that wisdom had to come from bringing it back home and implementing it in the place I began. After running about, looking at things, and telling of so much outside of myself, I needed to apply my knowledge in the hardest way possible. I had to pick up pen and paper again, and after all this time, write: I am.
Published on September 23, 2014