Friday, December 4, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 12 (Elaine Equi)


Decoy
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Equi, Elaine
Decoy


I probably bought this at St. Mark's Books, but I am not sure. In the year before I left the city (1996-7), I was thinking about applying to MFA programs and so decided I needed to take some writing workshops in order to get recommendations to go in with my applications.

Many of my friends had studied with Ann Lauterbach at CUNY Grad Center and were raving about her, but that seemed like a long way to travel (I had a hard time going north of 14th St. for anything!). I had also heard from several of them that they had taken a class or two with Elaine Equi, who also taught at the New School, which happened to be within walking distance of my apartment.

I signed up for her master class in poetry, which meant I had to apply to get in. I think it was the first time I had ever handed my poetry to someone and received an acceptance. I remember there were about 20 people in the class and that we would sit in a circle. Our text book was the recently released Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry. Each week, one of us would choose a poem from the anthology and talk about it with the class -- that is, read it aloud and discuss what we liked about that poem.

This was followed by discussion of student work. I remember Elaine being a very gentle teacher who sought out the positive aspects in everyone's work. I was used to the very harsh critical medicine that I and my writing group friends had administered to each other in our past writing sessions, so I was never quite sure how to respond to the positive reinforcement. I think over time though, it helped me temper, somewhat, my own critical pronouncements about other people's work, especially when someone wanted constructive criticism. I am a Scorpio, after all, so couching my feelings about something can be difficult.

I remember reading people like Joseph Ceravolo and Ted Berrigan and Rae Armantrout for the first time in that class. I was also taking a workshop with Eileen Myles on a different day of the week. Eventually, I got recommendations from both, neither of which I ever used. The reason I never used them is because both encouraged me to come to Buffalo, where I still had a deferred admission from a couple years earlier. I called and asked if I could still use it and they said yes and so off I went (and here I am).

from Decoy

This Is Not A Poem


the poem exists
always and only
in the mind
of the reader

and these words
can never be more than
arrows, breadcrumbs

a map of abbreviations
however crude or elaborate

the poem comes into being
as the writer reads
and the reader anticipates

one can fill every inch
with writing and still
be no closer to the poem

as it lies there
a liar with a beautiful voice
that is often mistaken for silence

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