WORKSHOP POETS

Bukowski once said, "Tell me one great poet who came out of a writing workshop." Many of Eskimo's friends have not attended writing workshops basically she thinks because there is a lack of workshops in town, and out-of-town workshops are too prohibitively priced for poor wannabeat poets. Eskimo once wined at an SPC board meeting that no poet should ever be turned away from a workshop because of a lack of funds and that the SPC should not charge for their weekly Tuesday nite workshops. Both policies of which are still in effect she is happy to say. Many workshops seem very "academically" oriented, and many of Eskimo's pals are more what she calls, 'street poets,' i.e., they get their feedback from the gutter and their own internal howl. Which brings us to the issue of, is it necessary to have your work critiqued in order to grow? Eskimo has had little critique of her work and she doesn't think her work has grown much. She still thinks some of her earliest poems were her best such as "Ode to Exxon." She once took a fiction writing class and half the class was crazy about her stuff, and half the class said, "I just don't get it." One of the students--a young cute white boy, begged the teacher for Eskimo's phone number and called her all breathless and said he had never done that before in his life but her little stories had driven him to distraction and he asked what she was doing. And she said, I'm sitting here talking to my husband. And that was the end of that fine romance. One older poet who has attended many workshops told Eskimo that she should sent out her poems to presses around the country. Eskimo said why in the hell would she want to publish her poems in the Louisiana Poughkeepsie Review where none of the readers would know who she was. And the older poet said, "Well I have published in over a hundred journals" which totally surprised Eskimo because Eskimo thought this poet was a "beginner poet" because of the incredibly restricted sensibility of her poems. One of Eskimo's high school English teachers told Eskimo that she wanted to see all of Eskimo's rough drafts. And after reviewing them, she told Eskimo not to self-edit anymore and to just turn in her first drafts because they were her best. Many older famous poets get tired of critiquing poems; Jim Dodge once told Eskimo that he had boxes and boxes of poems from students that he had never read and he was totally fried on teaching. Eskimo said she would never want to take a class from a crotchety old coot like him. This was about the point when the red wine started to kick in and Jim Dodge started to really admire her. When Eskimo first started writing poetry she had two so-called mentors, one older poet who never criticized her work only gently encouraged her. The other poet was just as maniacal as Eskimo and commented on every word. A lot of Eskimo's feedback has just come from reading in public and people's comments to her afterwards. When the room goes totally silent or when people cry, then Eskimo feels like she has accomplished something. Eskimo once attended two workshops by the same poet, and at the very end of the last session, the poet said that people should not take the class more than twice because the poet had only so much to teach. And then the poet asked Eskimo to read the group's collaborative poem which was the poet's secret way of telling Eskimo goodbye which no one else in the class picked up on. Eskimo garnered two gems of wisdom in these workshops: 1) sometimes interject words you don't normally use into your poems because just one new word can take you in a new direction--this is something Eskimo thinks William Burroughs would approve of; and 2) say something new with each line. Other poets like Frank Andrick and Dylan Thomas endorse reading other people's poems both in silence and aloud to "learn their music"--(Eskimo's words). Eskimo once drove 2 cockapoos (small dogs) all the way to Saratoga to hear Galway Kinnell (because she loves his reading voice), Carolyn Kizer (because she once said, "In order to be a poet, it is necessary to be utterly shameless"), and Robert Bly (Eskimo did not want to hear Bly because she absolutely hated that book about "Dancing with Wolves" and Eskimo wrote a scathing critique of it for a Comp Lit class and her teacher gave her an A plus plus). So Eskimo gets to Villa Montalvo and immediately becomes thoroughly outraged that "poetry" would be set off in a gated castle like that away from the "common people" and everyone is drinking white wine (not red wine), and Eskimo leaves before all the poets have finished and stands alone on the grand portico asking the stars for their poems and lets her dogs take a shit on the manicured green.

Beauty

"Stay on the path" -- words of wisdom from the gardener

If I had known 
there would be 
fine wine and roses
perhaps I would not have come

I am no longer quiet enough
My hands are dirty
But these are subtle differences,
things that shouldn’t matter to Beauty

If I had known 
there was a garden
I would have been afraid

If I had known 
there was Beauty, 
soft light, silence, 
bird sounds, 
I would have stayed at home

Iron gates, perfect lawns, 
yellow sassafrass--
is this really Beauty?
The birds who tell weeping stories?
The bricks which sweep back and forth 
across the lawn?
This vein along my arm,
the blood--
black, blue?

I am not azure
I am red
I am not quiet
not pure
not Beauty

Wanting water, 
finding instead
the desert.
The perfect garden 
is no longer 
any kind of idea of mine.  


Written in the gardens of Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, CA, 3-22-97.

Copyright EPG