I hope the poets are writing from deep within their Covid caves. I was mid-conversation with a friend the other day, & they said, “One of the few good things about this pandemic is that it has forced writers into a space where they can do their writing.” It took me a second to realize that this was an alley-oop to talk about my own writing in the Covid era. Socially & publicly over the last four years, I have felt very little like a writer, very removed from the poetry community that I once held so dear; instead, I peck away in my cave, these minor blips let out via this blog as a way to let off some steam. It wasn’t always this way, though.
Before my mental health completely tanked--from my last couple years at Ball State through my first two years in Austin--I was all over the place in the poetry scene, hosting reading series & workshops, performing a couple times a month, & revolving my social calendar around times to meet up with other writers to swap manuscripts, read to each other from our favorite books, & scout out possible collaborations over beers & laughter. I was also so stoked to edit for several magazines over the years--providing editorial feedback, publishing reviews, & letting some wicked work out to the world. Oddly enough, these editorial positions validated me most as a poet, the extreme privilege of getting to work alongside great writers on honing their own language.
That all changed on September 26, 2016, the day after my 28th birthday, when my ex-girlfriend LR published her essay “I Shouldn’t Have To Write This,” chronicling a period of abuse on my behalf, linked my undiagnosed bipolar episodes. That essay unleashed a picture of me that was unknown to much of the writing community I was a part of, including at the magazine/press & MFA program I was currently involved with. It also brought to light many details of my own psychological distress that I had never heard before. To put it lightly, it completely recalibrated my relationship with poetry.
I think LR & the crew that saw me as a loud, abusive prick assumed I would just go away from poetry, give up the craft, & be someone else’s burden. In truth, I was a scared-to-shit twenty-five year old when it happened, juggling a major illness, a support system that was turning its back on me, & the loss of the career path I was heading towards. But that terrified young man, over the last few years has leaned into poetry, not as a community-builder or a friend-giver as it once was, but rather as a therapeutic tool to release the dissociative cross-sections & psychosis-driven delusions that I’ve been carrying much of my adult life. Poetry has become the place to remainder my excess.
It doesn’t mean I don’t miss it, still in mourning over the sudden loss of many dear friends, a possible career, & the joy of publishing / performing poetry. I often think of the glow on my friends’ & co-host’s faces watching some incredible writers & performers at my Everything is Bigger reading series. I think often of the authors I was lucky enough to publish in various roles, as they would post on social media when their author copies came in the mail. I often think of the writers--from third graders to the elderly--I got to teach in workshop. I think often of the books, both my own & other beloved collections, I got to hand-over to curious poetry minds. That’s what I miss the most, being out & about in the community, adding a little ring to the symphony.
For many years, that wasn’t possible or responsible, with the combination of the stigma from LR’s essay & my own awareness of the volatile nature of my undiagnosed mental illness. Like I said, I was better suited to a private poetry life. But what about now? I’m much better off psychologically. I have attempted (& will continue to) multiple times to make amends for the harm I’ve caused others in the writing community. I wrote my open letter to the poetry community. Am I ready to be out & about in the poetry community?
Well, obviously, the current pandemic stops that from happening, but what about from a distance--the publishing & the reviewing & the championing of others’ work--can I do that? I will tell you the truth about something. From the moment I first found out about LR’s essay, I was not so concerned with the effect it would have on my poetry “career,” nevermind the death threats & vandalism. I was most concerned with the impact it would have on others--the shocking disappointment, the blatant fear, & the expected backlash for those who knew me & even more so, those who would continue to know me. You can see it even in this post, my refusal to include the names of those folks I was previously involved with.
I know people bullied my support system in the years following that essay. What about now? What if I try to publish, either my own poems in magazines or starting a magazine to publish others? I am concerned about the bad reputation & backlash those seemingly innocuous decisions would have on those writers who get involved with me. It is the same reason I kept my name away from the work I was doing with DS’s theater projects; the risk never seemed worth the reward.