Celebrating National Poetry Month: Living by art and being wed to it.
by Judyth Hil
Poetry dollars are absolutely thrilling to spend. When I return from a gig, or while onone, I am flabbergasted that I have actually managed to grow up to be what Ialways told my mother I’d be. I shop with the bliss of a kid with a wholeweek’s allowance, overcome by the possibilities of filling a waxy white sackwith Bonomo Turkish Taffy (vanilla), Bit o’ Honey and fireballs.
Now, grown up and ecstatic, with a wad of fresh billsearned by being a poet, set loose in fragrant, multi-countered departmentstores, seductive antique shops jammed with heartbreakingly good treasures, andnaturally, the closest bookstore I can dash to.
That money is simply conflagrating in my sequined wallet.Wanting to jump back into the world and return as new Composition Notebooks(graph-paper only), Pilot fountain pens (black), sparkly earrings, extremelycute camisoles, long sexy lunches with friends, sharing spicy platters of LambVindaloo and Sag Paneer, and pretty jars of profoundly emollient face cream andsuggestively scented bath stuff. Plus, lately, a full tank in the Toyota, theau courant version of a major splurge.
When I fly home, my de rigueur double-your-pleasure pitstop is the gas station at Santo Domingo, to cruise the tables in thesurrounding field for fabulous deals on extremely excellent jewelry. It’s myre-entry prize. I buy totally terrific pieces for Divine Girlchild and me. Oh and get the best price on petrol ofcourse, especially Wednesday. Butyou knew that, right?
Everywhere I shop, as I happily hand over my greenbacks,I confide to all about: I made this money with poetry! Invariably, everyone involved oroverhearing gets excited too. Whata bizarre and original concept: a poet in America making money from poetry!
It’s simply radical, positively revolutionary! Even sitting down to pay the phone andelectric bill has a certain tang, a frisson, when paid by the wages earned inthe employ of Muse.
I live a handmade life: and the delight of this neverceases to amaze. Inside that word is an underpinning of service, and a vow madeand kept.
Poem, from the Greek word poiema, means something made orcreated, and to somehow become made of the stuff of our dreams, our life mustneeds be a created thing as well. Cobbled together of longing, luck and practice.
I love the story of the fellow, who, watching JackNicklaus sink an incredibly difficult 14-foot putt, commented, "Wow, thatsure was lucky!" Nicklaus, with his usual dry humor, replied, "Yeah,and I find the more I practice, the luckier I get."
When I first started writing a restaurant column fornewspaper, back in the ’80s, I would sit in the newsroom, such the agonizedbeginner, poring over every wordas poets do.
Still, my compatriots in the newsroom would drift by myenthralled, devotee self, and sigh, telling me, Dang, I wish I was a"real" writer. Yourealize, these are people that write for six and eight and 10 hours a day; whenthe editor sticks his head out of his office and assigns one of them 35 columninches on some breaking story due in three hours, they Nike up and Do It. Fast.Easily.
I was in admiring awe of them all, these talented,diligent folk, who spin words into dollars, and they, also of me, with myoddball, risky life choices. These professional writers especially, feel thepressure of inner yearning – for perhaps, novels, screenplays, or just the timea "free-lance" writer has.
Days spent at home in PJs, noodling about, doing therequired bit of magnificent nothing that art and life are made from, correctinga word here, a phrase there, searching for the mot juste, sipping Bewley’sIrish Breakfast. Staring for long, sweet minutes, out the window and into thecanyon, now turned veldt green and ravishingly carpeted with purple asters andwild sunflowers, in these deliciously post-torrential rain days. Listening to Mendelssohn’s ViolinConcerto Op. 64 in August’s fragrant air, until the Zone thing kicks in hardand you’re swept away, gripped by the fierce blaze of the imaginary, there towork and burn and rejoice.
It’s a life of passion, and often jubilant, rollickinghilarity. And, a lot of luck increasing with practice.
When money panic hits, pre-mortgage-due days, sometimesasking myself, Is it time to became a cocktail waitress? Get the MFA and ivory towerize/tenuretrack myself?
Not yet, that Lil Inner Voice pronounces: Stick thatcourage to the sitting point and write.
But there was that crossover moment, and I remember itvividly. I had created and run mybakery, The Chocolate Maven, and not yet ensconced it where I would come topart from it, at the last, in an adorable house on Guadalupe Street. One night, making maybe my 4000th batchof Fudge Espresso brownies, I heard a poem in my head. Up past my literalelbows in chocolate, I repeated the words over and over until the batch wastidily spread into 12 buttered pans and arranged inside the awaiting 325∞oven. Then I cried. Then I wrotethe words to "Take A Woman," a recipe for what made a Judyth.
I thought about the old Hasidic tale, wherein Zoysha, arrivingin heaven and apologizing for not being Moses, gets asked by God, So who neededyou to be Moses? What I want toknow is why weren’t you Zoysha?
And I knew if I wouldn’t write my poems and do my work,who would? Who could? And really, come to think of it, whyshould they?
I had this epiphany: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t MeanYou Should. As in: the should ofstaying in my bakery business for life, and never seeing if I might make aliving as poet.
That realization is, for me, a truth that has appreciatedover the years, and been well-applied to many seductive business ventures.
I called my then-husband, and told him I would begin tomake money as a writer, as a poet, a performer, a teacher of poetry, as ajournalist, whatever it took, until it was my livelihood. And lively it surely was, then and now.
I beganslowly, fitting my writing life around the bakery, did kind of a jump-start:heading downhill, popping the clutch into second.
Then, there was the necessary leap of faith, to createthe space where you don’t, can’t know the next thing, because it hasn’thappened yet, but only that wide-open place can let something new enter.
The wild blue, the yonder that comes closer when you headtowards it: the day that I sold my beloved Maven and set out. I bet you could almost see the HuckFinn look in my eyes, imagine my small belongings tied in a bandana, knotted ona stick, heading out on that shining road.
People asked me, then and sometimes now, Don’t you missthe bakery? No, I’d answer; I wasthere, really there with all my heart. My gone has been seasoned with the days and hours of that presence. The way all our overs, our loved andlost, our afters, and never-to-bes, flavor, tenderize and enrich our present.
As for the Trickster pressure of our daily life – theconstant must-dos and have-tos and the without-whichs: God is perhaps notoverwhelmingly impressed that we managed to pick up our dry cleaning, if wehaven’t returned in kind the gift we were given to live out.
No wonder an antique word for money is"talent." It’s a clue that we are supposed to spend it, spend it all,here and now.
And so I gaily do, happy that I have such a rich andgenerous boss.
But what, you and I are both wondering, does this have todo with Married Eyes, a phrase I associate with Poetry Dollars?
Somehow I always knew they were a part of the samestory.
Perhaps it is the vow I made to marry my writing, keep myeyes private for that love, as for so many years, I had learned to keep my eyesfor my lover’s alone.
Love enters, it is said, through the eyes, and yet the(yes, again) Greeks believed in psychopodia- that the eyes are a kind of limb,the arms of the soul, as it were, reaching out to embrace the world.
I’ve kept a practice of "married eyes" – know what I mean? I have theeye-contact habits of a wife, a funny kind of reserve, a reticence close-up.Yet O, I do have floozy eyes for rocks and trees, the beauty and griefs of thelustrous world we are blessed to inhabit, eyes that search and seek and holdclose what I love.
Stage eyes, maybe, eyes that look eagerly at you, but areshy when you look at me.
What the heart yearns for will remain desired, despiteall, and the fully-lived life demands our all-hands-on-deckness, whether witheyes or mind, soul or pen, trowel or piano, paintbrush or oven mitt.
So I am going steady with my writing, quite the hottie,it turns out, and entirely faithful. I confess I am also having a seriousaffair with Rockmirth, my home on the east face of the Sangre de CristoMountains, where the Rockies meet the Plains-and triple-timing that lover withsome good old-fashioned adoration of my children and the glorious buzzhumm offriends.
Hmmm, and several species of grasses in our canyon, a newrecipe for bread…the list goes on, on and out, into the wild blue.
Judyth Hill is a chef of words and poet of delectablefood. She lives where the Rockies meet the plains. See her at Talking GourdsPoetry Fest in Telluride late this month..