First Day came out of material developed during that Key West workshop with Jane Hirshfield I mentioned in my last post. I had never done anything like what we did at that workshop. Jane would give us a prompt to write from and we would return in half an hour or so and read our poems to the group, for me a very scary situation with all the talent that was in the room.
The first day I was astounded by what people brought back, I couldn’t believe the quality of what I was hearing. I felt totally inadequate. But Jane also said that what we were producing were not supposed to be finished poems, that the hope would be some of them would eventually turn into something we liked, a hope I hung on to as everyone else’s sounded very complete already.
In January 2015, during that time many of us here in the mid-continent first heard the term “polar vortex”, I was down in Key West for the Key West Literary Seminar, specifically for a workshop I got into at the last minute with the poet Jane Hirshfield. The weather was warm and sultry, and I was staying in the old town area of a place soaked in the past of literary giants like Hemingway and Elizabeth Bishop. That was my first time at a US literary event and I feel like that was a good prelude to the California adventure that started later that year.
I also got to attend the Literary Seminar part of the event, which meant listening to a wide variety of great writers discuss many things on that year’s theme on panels as well as readings. Jane was great, so well prepared for every discussion and her reading was also top notch. There was another standout, who I didn’t know before, the poet Marie Howe. She and Jane were the ones with the best insights, always prepared and their readings also stood out.
In the workshop with Jane we learned many things. One key one was, ironically, that she felt people workshopped too much, “that they sanded the finish right off their poems” often leaving dull wood. The other was that she felt one of the best poets writing dialogue in poems was Marie Howe. Jane noted that the book What the Living Do was a spectacular example of that, the collection Marie wrote about her brother dying of AIDS.
At one of Marie’s readings I was also struck by a poem full of dialogue, After the Movie. Afterwards I decided to use that poem as a model to try and write a poem using similar moves. The poem I wrote is meant as an homage to that poem and the choices Marie makes. So there is some similarity in the engine of the poem. But different topic, characters, lines etc.