Not Quite Yet the Cruelest Month

April brings NaPoWriMo, O Miami Poetry Festival, and the usual onslaught of local open mic readings and poetry celebrations, weeks that often meant much high expectations to be the visible university poet in the community, hosting radio readings, judging contests for the newspaper and art center, visiting underserved classrooms, coinciding with all the end-of-the-semester obligations of my day job: finals, graduation, comprehensive exams, annual reports. I dreaded April. It essentially meant not writing poetry.

I guess that would be an ugly or resentful admission, but the truth is that I frequently went for long, long periods not writing poetry. Sometimes stretches of 18 months or more. I wasn't silenced. I wasn't blocked. I wasn't necessarily incubating. Of course, when I started writing poetry, seriously, in high school and through my M.F.A. years, I wrote practically every day, often multiple poems in a sitting. I still have those old notebooks, somewhere.

But then, what with going after a Ph.D. in literary studies, with getting a tenure-line job, oh, and marriage and the baby thing, I would have these extended interludes of not writing. What's odd is that is didn't involve anxiety. I knew I would get back to writing poems, that I might be initially rusty, but it would wear off quickly. Typical for me was to go through a torrid two- or three-month round of writing a lot of poetry, drafting, drafting, drafting, and then I would go through a six-month period of not writing, not worrying about it--just doing the work of occasional editing, and even then, it was a bit hit or miss.

In the down time, then, was both time to recover, to reflect, to live, and all that, but it was also a time to become a little suspicious of just what the poetry thing was all about for me. I didn't burn the way I had in my youth. I didn't discipline myself the way my peers did with their writing. I suspected laziness on my part. But ultimately I realized it was just the way for me, and I liked the casualness of it, of maybe writing or not writing for a while, knowing I would get back to it when it mattered.

I think it's April's demand that I do poetry is what is so irksome to me about the month, a chore, an obligation. Oh, I will still get giddy, getting the updates of what cool thing is seriously happening on South Beach, the nervous students sharing their work out loud, the improbability of this small, narrow, and unproductive enterprise, something private and inconsequential and necessary, strange, strange, little fugitive fugue.