On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA

National Poetry Month is April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot. And I get where he’s coming from, especially in Boston, where lilacs may or may not be breeding out of the dead ground. This month, everything bloomed late because the Weather Gods decided to send us temps in the 40s for most of March and April, and then bust directly into summer on May 2 with a high of 87. I should be used to this by now, seeing as I’ve lived in Boston for 18 years. But California spoiled me in my toddler years, and on some level I’ll always mourn weeks and weeks of room-temperature weather. The temperamental temperatures affect my mood as well, leading to unpredictable amounts of spoons.

The good thing about National Poetry Month is also the bad thing about National Poetry Month: everyone is celebrating poetry. As anyone perusing the listings I post can see, Boston has a thriving po-scene. There are open mics and slams and performances and launch parties and panels and exclusive hoity-toity readings every week and twice on Sundays. In April the listings just explode. And those are just the ones I know about–I hear about other ones all the time that don’t make my list. And then there are the informal writing groups, as secret and desirable as lesbian potlucks.

In a perfect world I’d attend at least one or two of these events a month, but I don’t live in that world. I live in a world where four days out of five are dedicated to a job that has nothing to do with the life of letters, a job where I don’t even feel comfortable touting my new chapbook because it has sexy bits in it that some of my more conservative coworkers probably wouldn’t care for–especially in these #metoo days. The other three days I’m spending on my MFA schoolwork, or hoarding spoons, or working in the garden, or spending time with my partner and my non-poetry friends. Poetry is great and all, but it’s not the be-all and the end-all of my life. Sometimes–and especially when I read the bios of poets I admire–I feel like there’s a giant poetry party happening all around me, but I never got the invite.

In an effort to maintain a sustainable work/school/life balance, I’ve been alternating semesters on and off at Lesley. Which means that both this year and the next, I will be finishing up my schoolwork at the same time that the Mass Poetry Fest happens in my own back yard. This year I said fuck it, I’m going anyway. I’ve come to realize that it’s perfectly acceptable to feel anxious about attending this kind of festival all alone (even if I might see some people I know there), so my poet-sister W-J is coming with me. We’re even splitting a room so that we don’t have to drive two-plus hours to and fro each day.

The Mass Poetry Festival also always falls on Beltane weekend. Not sure if this is because Mass Poetry is full of secret pagans who want to celebrate it all with poetry, or because the holiday isn’t even on their radar. I’m inclined to believe the latter. This confluence of dates is especially ironic given that the festival takes place in Salem, ground zero for performance paganism. So in years past I’ve often opted for religious observance rather than poetry celebration. This year is different. My hope is that I will find inspiration and community at the festival rather than exhaustion and alienation. Chances are I’ll find a little of both.

I suppose it’s natural to get sick of anything one does intensively for months at a time. This is particularly how I feel now. But I’m not really sick of writing poetry–that takes surprisingly little time and always makes me feel great. I’m just sick of all the fleshy bits around the actual writing of poetry. The glad-handing and the endless string of rejection letters and the constant comparing myself to people younger than me who have gotten This Important Fellowship and That Important Prize and The Other Prestigious Teaching Position. I pray to the Goddess to help me remember the intrinsic value of the work that I haven’t been able to put down since the age of eight, and to put aside the ego-driven, small-minded part of me who doesn’t consider me a Real Poet(TM) unless I win the goddamn Pulitzer.

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