Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How To Read The Rumpus and Other Questions As I Embark On My Sabbatical

Leaving the office yesterday proved to be challenging. I wanted to make sure I had everything I wanted to take home with me and wasn't forgetting anything. After spraying down and wiping off every sprayable and wipeable surface as I do at the end of every semester to make clean what has been soiled with semesterly woes, I carefully walked through one last time, and then I went through my desk drawers again. I left behind my hot pot in case my officemates want to make tea. I shut the light. I closed the door.

I walked down the hall to the main office to say goodbye and Merry Christmas to the women who make my work life function, the admin assistants. I then said the same to one of my colleagues who is also my promotion application mentor--making sure that she certainly wanted to go to London instead of writing her letter of support for my binder over the break. She was certain she preferred London and said that I'd be able to come in for just one quick visit to sign off before the department submits the promotion application binders next semester.

Just once next semester will I set foot on campus. Because as of noonish yesterday, I am on sabbatical.

I left the building with my usual shoulder bag of stuff plus a plastic bag of extra stuff. I tucked it all under my tiny umbrella and headed across the muddy football field towards my car. I had all odd urges like to drop everything and swirl around and sing "Climb Every Mountain" and to skip through the mud in circles. I did neither. Instead, my body reacted the way any normal happy-excited human being would react.

I got the nervous sweats. Such joy. Such joyous joy. Such a way to celebrate all good things. Sweat poured out of me so that I was wet with rain from the outside and with my own self-made moisture from the inside.

I threw my bags on the passenger seat when I arrived at my car. Then I grabbed off my scarf and threw that on top. After sitting in the driver's seat, I took off my jacket, too. Then I sat there, staring at the football field, hands on the wheel, smiling like a maniac.

My sabbatical application states the following:

The overall goal of this project is to write a collection of my own poems, The Modern (American) Poetry Travelogue [working title] that reflects the history, changing themes, and changing approaches of modern poetry, with a special focus on American poetry.  By the end of the sabbatical, I will have the first drafts of many individual poems completed that will act as the foundation for a full collection to be arranged and edited afterwards. During this leave of sabbatical, I will read and review poetry and poetic process to draft my own poetic works. To complete this endeavor, I will split my time between reading and researching further collections of modern poetry; drafting poems that come from this reading and research; and meeting and work-shopping with fellow poets to inform my editing and revision of these drafts. One major part of this project is traveling to major poetry centers in America to experience particular poets and movements that will be the focus of larger sections in the collection.

What I've been telling everyone who asks me is a bit different.

Everyone: How are you spending your sabbatical?

Me: I'm gonna watch movies and read books and then write some things.

Clearly, this answer probably would not have led to my attaining a sabbatical, so the above blurb works better. The above blurb was my true intention at the time of application. Now, it's not exactly what I plan to do, but it's a start.

Creative work can change quickly, so what I was working on a year ago, I'm kind of over now. I have a week by week breakdown of all the readings I plan to read, the writings I plan to write, and the workshops I plan to conduct. That's the same idea now, but it's also different. I'm going to use some parts of that American poetry stuff--Kerouac and Meyer have lists of how to write a poem, so I'm going to follow those lists to create poetry. I'm also working on a collection involving mermaids and woodland creatures. Basically, I'm working on everything all at once, and I'll get a whole lot of writing done and see where it takes me.

In addition to reading books--in my sweat-laden excitement, I went to the library and checked out four already--I want to read journals and online literary haunts. The ones I've wanted to read have been bookmarked on my browser for so long that cyber dust has thickened across the top of them. Also in my sweat-laden excitement, I clicked through each of them, starting with The Rumpus.

The Rumpus overwhelms me. How does one read The Rumpus? By scrolling the home page? By clicking on categories? By looking for something in particular or by browsing around for something to jump and tug?

Another overwhelming site is McSweeney's. Again, what does one click on first? Shall one read lists? Read letters? Buy stuff from the store in a confused state of hope and desire?

Then there's The Paris Review. Because Paris.

My application for sabbatical also states:
To access the most relevant and current materials for part of my reading list, and to discuss my project with experts in the field, I plan to visit some of the leading poetry archival centers in the United States.  Some of these centers are not local, but they are key elements of this project as they offer insight into not only the poetry of particular movements, but also important information about the personal experiences of the poets so that I might gain insight into their inspiration.

This travel includes Chicago, San Francisco, Boulder, and Philadelphia. Because, you know, poets are rich and can travel at whim. 

I am probably not going to all these places, and travel budget isn't the main reason. Again, the creative streak switched gears. I instead applied for writing retreats and residencies that offer stipends--they'd pay me. The one in Wyoming turned me down. There's another one I'm waiting on that's in Kentucky. I don't know if I'll get that one, either, but it won't break my spirit if I don't. 

Luckily, NYC has a wealth of poetry haunts. I can finally get my ass to Poets House. I should be ashamed for not having visited yet.

One of my students asked me where I was going on sabbatical. I answered, My house! This kind of excitement for being simply home probably doesn't emerge for many people. For this gal, it's really all I need.

My house is a place where I can watch movies and read books and surf the web, all things that sound like simply bumming around and not working. However, my house is my workplace. Watching movies, reading books, and surfing the web will all add up to something poetic and hopefully wonderful and hopefully something long enough to be a cohesive full-length collection. All I need to do is get into my weekly schedule, one that is modified from my original plan, but it's still a plan and there's work to be done. Now that I've stopped sweating, I'm pretty sure I can figure out the rest.

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