Friday, January 13, 2006

Another year, no Pushcart

Do you get caught up in this nonsense, too? Another year, I say to myself as the new digit 6 flips into place, and no Pushcart, NEA, Guggenheim -- or even a spot in Poetry magazine. I'm adept at making myself crazy as I flip through the pages of Poets & Writers and their announcements of awards won. "I didn't win that one . . . or that one . . . or even that puny one . . . " I mumble as the cheerful mug shots flip by. Well, who wouldn't grin like an idiot when having your photo snapped for an award announcement?

The trouble begins far before the grant application, award opporunity or contest entry crops up. In fact, it begins in human nature itself. Why must we compare ourselves in every direction to know where we stand and what to think of ourselves? It's the antithesis to creating a work of art, that looking furtively around for what others have done and ticking off the marks of what one HAS done. It's hindsight, and not creative vision, and yet I find myself often spending precious time alloted for reading and writing poetry on measuring myself against the wall of others' achievements and find myself not too tall.

I even do it right after I HAVE achieved something. What is that about?

A recent conversation with a poet friend offered an idea for a subtler form of comparison, and one that might be creatively fruitful, instead of sending you off on a pity-binge. It's to read poems that move you and then write back. Write poetry that responds to -- even engages with and references other poems. And you don't even have to cite the other poem as an epigraph. The conversation in question was about Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems, and the subtle dialogues with other, well-known poems my poet friend found in some of Wilbur's poems. We lamented that few people read this literary historical context in today's poetry, and even fewer write into it.

A much better topic to dwell on than to ponder why in yet again another year I haven't won or been nominated for any kind of poetry award.