To paraphrase Rumi, I believe in huge foolish projects, like Noah’s.
For as long as I can remember, my father has been the editor of a poetry magazine called The Sow’s Ear. It is now nationally acclaimed, with a contest for a chapbook and a single poem that is judged by individuals like Amy Clampitt, Sam Rasnake, and Fred Chapell. Poetry was not handed over to me or my family on a silver platter. We write our words; no one writes for us.
I grew up in a cinder brick house, sharing a small room with two other children. The extension on our house was divided into two levels, the shorter upper floor for us kids, and the lower level was used as a magazine editing studio for my father and Mary C., a friend of the family, who took the expression “cut and paste” in literal terms of artistic instruction.
You cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but somehow this is how one particular poetry magazine was born, with Mary piecing together pictures of pig butts for the back of the magazine, and my Mom inviting Mary over for dinner and conversations.
Rather insensitively considering all of my father’s hard work as an editor, I like to think that none of this was the true purpose of my parent’s focus on poetry. (My Mom was an English major in her own rite.) I like to think that their acceptance and enthusiasm for poetry birthed in me my own love of poetry and willingness to embrace poet as my top career aspiration.
I like poetry because it is a way for me to figure things out, about my thoughts, beliefs and emotions. I like how a good poet can say just exactly how much or how little they want to on a subject in as cunning or as wry of a way. I like how poetry tells my reader about me. My whole person is more awake when I am writing poetry than at any other time of my life.
Poetry, for my family and me, was a lot like a silk purse. We never yet have profited financially from The Sow’s Ear or any of our poems. You cannot make something out of nothing. But if you work hard enough, and your children watch you working, you might just make them want to be like you. And isn’t that something?