2018-01-18 Poking the Panic Monster

I have just under two weeks to get my first set of assignments turned in for this semester of my masters program. The panic monster inside of me is still fast asleep. That’s probably not a good thing. I think part of me thinks it’s going to be easy and the other part thinks that since this is my very first submission, if it’s not quite right, my mentor will correct my mistakes, give me more direction, and then we’ll just move on to the next one.

There are basically three elements required for this first “packet”.

1. A sampling of my creative writing, either first drafts or revisions, with a minimum number of pages.

2. A set of critical essays written on subjects derived from my reading of the books on my reading list. Again, there are a minimum number of essays and pages.

3. A cover letter which is to serve as the main communication between my my mentor and myself. It’s the start of a semester long dialogue to discuss what I’ve done, problems I’m having, and any questions I might have.

This is all to be compiled in a single document and emailed to my mentor by the deadline, which is January 31st.

#1 is Cake! That’s money that is already in the bank. I’ve been writing everyday and revising everyday and inspired by things around me that naturally fall into words on a line on the page. It’s been quite magical actually.

#3 will also be a snap. An hour at the keyboard at most and everything I’ve been thinking about this process and my work and my reading will just simply appear. At least that’s what I’m thinking about it now anyway.

#2 is where it gets tough. I’ve got three texts and three collections of poems from three poets on my reading list. Week 1 was acquiring the books. ✅

Week 2 was beginning to read in order Of interest and also as directed by my mentor. ✅

But that’s where the train stops.

I read up a little on both Robert Creeley and Emily Dickinson on wiki and began reading poems from each. I haven’t yet started in on Wallace Stevens. I’m going to hold my comments for a minute on first impressions.

I also started my first text, “A Poets Guide to Poetry”. I’m still in the introductory section and have not made it to chapter 1. I will not hold my tongue on my initial thoughts where this is concerned. It’s confusing as hell.

Picture reading a novel where the subject matter is completely foreign and so the terms used to describe things are unknown and have to be looked up, one by one. Then, add in that the language itself is on a level above what one is accustomed to. This just means that not only is there a teminogy gap, but a language gap, and ordinary words also have to be ‘googled’.

As if that was not enough, it is also written with a cadence that someone who is used to reading and interpreting a poem might understand. The whole thing feels like a poem whose subject is not obvious without some diligent re-reading, analysis, and reflection.

In fact, it goes right into that very idea, even before chapter 1. Some analysis of lines with conclusions I never in my wildest dreams would have come to in my own. I wondered when reading if the author had some insider information from the poets themselves or interviews or explanations written after the fact. Is it common knowledge? Are these famous poems used time and again in lectures in universities to highlight the exact point she’s making? Is this the stuff I should know already? Shit.

It feels like I’m a pre-med or pre-pharmacy student who is taking organic chemistry for the first time. For those that are not aware, “orgo” is the class they use to weed students out of these programs who don’t belong. Sure, being a doctor sounds like a fantastic idea, so why not go for it? However, not everyone has the mental capacity to do that job. The system is designed with keepers of gates and checks and balances to make sure that when you go visit your PCP, you don’t end up talking to ‘“Biff” from Back to the Future. Orgo does that. It separates good candidates from those who will not be able to make it through the program.

But this is POETRY, not rocket science. I get that there’s a lot more to it than just words dancing on a page. I’m engaged with learning all those things and am committed and have my mind set, but I actually want to learn them. I don’t want to guess and pretend to learn them and end up spending every penny I ever saved for a piece of paper and a few letters. I want to grow as a person and come away knowing more than I did before and be able to talk about it intelligently and even perhaps even pass on what I have learned. Nobody’s life will hang in the balance if I mess up, for sure, but that does not mean I’m ok with fluffing my way through.

I recognize part of my problem is me, and the fact that I’m not classically trained in literature or poetry or art and that I’ve been out of school for 20 years. My brain is mush. I’ve fallen to reading young adult dystopian fiction and I hang out with teenagers in my spare time. My vocabulary has not advanced in adulthood and everything new I’ve learned is based on acronyms, systems of operation, and thought processes of software development. Not helpful, as it turns out, when reading poetry.

This is probably why I’m having no issues picking up all this AWS stuff. It’s all cake so far, and being fed to me with language an elementary student could understand. I’ve aced every practice test and have not yet come across a concept that didn’t make complete sense.

It’s as if instead of “Poetry for Poets”, I need to start with “Poetry for Dummies”. According to my mentor, that the one he assigned is the best reference book on the shelf today and the easiest of the three texts he assigned me to read. Damn. I shudder to imagine what the other two texts will be like.

Thinking about all of this is making the Panic Monster roll over in his bed, as if he were having a bad dream. I’m thinking he’s about to wake up.

Let the Chaos begin!

~Miss SugarCookie

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