Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I am quirky, hear me roar!

My first mentor was a formidable figure in the world of American poetry. He was supportive and invested in me at a time when I had no conception that one could even pursue a career in writing (remember that I converted from the sciences, largely due to my first mentor's encouragement). I was awed and honored to have his support, and, not surprisingly, I produced lots of poems that bore more than passing resemblance to the work he did, meditating on the issues that haunted him. Hero-worship, yes, but also the oldest-child Pleaser in me.

When I was finishing my first graduate degree, I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of a very, very smart older scholar and poet, a person who has, literally, written the book on lyric poetry, and many fine works of poetry and criticism alike, for which he was justly decorated. I took classes with him and learned much, but he also allowed me to do a kind of private poetry tutorial with him once a week--like a workshop, but smarter and more brutal in tone. After I'd been meeting with him like this for about 8 months, he said to me, gruffly but not unkindly, "Ms. RG, you are lively, and loud, and sort of a geek. You are interested in strange scientific phenomena. You are playful. Why do you write the meditative poems of a 65-year-old man obsessed with death? Where is your voice?"

The question took me aback. And, though it took a year for me to process it and comprehend what he was saying, his insight changed my style as a writer, wholly. And, I think, for the better--if only because the stuff I produce is recognizably me.

That's sort of what happened to me when our department arranged that works-in-progress workshop with the visiting hotshot not of my field last year. And it's taken me, again, over a year to process it fully. (I'm a muller.) But in the last week, as I've really found my rhythm in this Herbert chapter, I've understood it anew. It's not just a matter of finding what I'm interested in. It is, in fact, finding the contribution that ONLY I can make to this long conversation--not because I'm this dazzlingly original thinker, but because I have tools in my little pouch that folks like, say, SF and RS and MS and even JS and HA and all those other supersmart scholars, don't have. I'm not talking about intellectual skills, but my own little hobbyhorses. RW is a good reader, but he just hasn't done enough (to rescue some measure of discretion and exploit the last sentence's metaphoric potential) EQUESTRIAN TRAINING to find this cool thing I'm arging in Herbert.

I think we sometimes forget, as scholars in the humanities, that it's our humanity that makes our contribution to the conversation interesting.

2 comments:

Lisa B. said...

>> I'm a muller

HA. Me, too. Also, that story about the first mentor and the comment from the second guy--you told that to me in reference to my ms, and I have mulled over that ever since. I'm mulling twice removed. (or whatever--I'm no mathematician.)

Moria said...

For all-caps 'EQUESTRIAN TRAINING,' a LoL you get from me.

Also, I have not forgotten that I owe you an e-mail. I have merely been devoured by a seminar paper. Remember coursework? Talk about writing-the-poems-of-a-65-year-old-obsessed-with-death! Only, I suppose, in my case now, it's writing-the-prose-of-an-assistant-professor-obsessed-with-theory. Doomed to failure. Precisely because one is not really allowed one's own voice (who has time for VOICE in coursework?!). Argh.

Good to know there's some kind of light ahead, even if the tunnel turns out to be a bit longer than one'd like.