For when the cold winds blows, I will close my eyes calmly, knowing I am anchored to you.
-Tyler Knott Gregson
As a writer these days, I often find myself wheeling around between genres like a drive-in burger joint waitress on roller-skates. All pig-tails and bubble gum.
I suppose I’ve become the kind of writer I always hoped I’d grow to be—just like my beloved Papa Hemingway: publishing throughout his career short stories, articles and essays, poetry, full-length fiction AND non-fiction. I have forever so admired writers and artists like he, who could tiptoe amongst mediums with such seamless grace, such fearless command. I find that talent feverishly attractive; I must have it and make it mine.
And in a way, some might argue that today’s publishing climate demands that writers possess this skill for adaptability. Being a one-genre-pony limits one’s opportunities in the industry. Poets, for example, who exclusively write poetry are going to have a tough time earning a living on their creative work alone; we all know this. But poets who can challenge themselves to trying a hand at other content might have an easier go. I’m not saying I like the system. I’m just saying that it does seem to be the way the game is played these days.
For me, I don’t mind the challenge; I love the thrill and the stimulation of being forced to learn how to write all over again, in a sense, each time I throw myself into a new project or a new genre. And conversely, it’s an incredible joy to see how training and technique from each can blend into the others, feeding and informing reciprocally. The process can be astounding. As I wander around, sampling and exploring and facing fears at every turn, sometimes it’s nice to return back to homebase for a spell. Returning to my home genre is exactly what I’m doing with The Burden of Light right now, going home to my poetry roots. And damn, does it feel good.
As a kid, poetry was the form I explored most, long before I thought I’d make writing my occupation. In high school and college, poetry was always my go-to genre. Even after I began to take my writing more seriously and embarked upon the decade-long journey of writing my memoir, A Real Emotional Girl, I never stopped reading, writing, and loving poetry—so much so that I dropped everything else to pursue an MFA in Poetry from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, studying under living poetry legends like David Wagoner, Carolyne Wright, Marvin Bell, and Tess Gallagher. It was there that I met lifelong friends in fellow poets Caleb Barber and my dearest Kelly Davio. There that I truly honed my craft. There that I learned the theory and the art that would nourish my passion for verse.
Since graduating with that degree, I’ve written and published not only poetry but short stories, book reviews, personal essays, interviews, articles, roundtable discussions, fiction, literary non-fiction, and—of course—memoir. I’m deeply honored and grateful to have experienced such a variety of literary successes already, and can’t wait to see what else is waiting for me down the road. But right now, at this very moment, I’m all about soaking it up with my Po Biz peeps. Through this anthology, I’ve been connecting with friends and colleagues from NILA, from my five years as the Poetry and translations editor for the Los Angeles Review, and from attending the AWP conferences the last four years. For the last four months, I’ve read nothing but poetry, written nothing but poetry. I breathe it, I smell it. I lap it up like milk from a bowl. I’d make love to it if I could.
I inhale Plath, exhale Bukowski. I bathe in the crisp, clean waters of Wallace Stevens and dry with the wry wit of Charles Simic. At night, I let May Sarton lull me to sleep, wake to Jack Gilbert whispering “Pittsburg, Pittsburgh” in my ear.
Someday not terribly far off—maybe six months, maybe a year from now, I’ll see this anthology project to its completion, and I’ll return to my novel. Get back to fiction and its terrifying, boundary-less landscape. But even when I do, I’ll always be tethered to poetry, anchored by all it has taught me: precision, brevity, purpose, shape, meter, pace.
It’s true what they say about first loves. You never forget the feeling.