Somewhere in the high school years of my vast library of diaries, there's a to do list entitled "WHEN I GROW UP I'LL BE STABLE," after a Garbage lyric. The list is full of hopes, some of them wild, some of them only pretending to be. Hair dye, piercings, and tattoos factored heavily, along with road trips and other "get out of this one traffic light town" angst. I wanted to love more than advisable and live loudly, a tall order for the shy, solitary person I was then. Among the mostly attainable items on this list, there was also a dream-the-impossible-dream moment: publish my first book by the time I'm 25. And it's happening.
My first book, Pelican, has been selected as the inaugural recipient of Yes Yes Books' Pamet River Book Prize, a new award given annually to a debut collection by a female-identified or gender queer poet. Yes Yes makes absolutely gorgeous books and champions so many authors I admire, and it's still overwhelming to think they'll be the ones shepherding my words into the world in a book with a spine for the very first time. Working with KMA Sullivan and Stevie Edwards on this project has been nothing short of joyful, which is really saying something, since the content of the book leans heavily towards exploring one of the most painful losses I'll ever experience.
In 2011, my father passed away after a long, complicated battle with diabetes. I had recently finished college and was still struggling to find my footing. During my final semesters of school, as my father's health had worsened, my writing had veered away from the performance pieces I'd written since admitting I wanted to be a poet. The new work was shorter, more spare, and a lot of the poems I wrote at the time scared me beyond all reason because each of them tried to capture a different facet of what losing my father felt like. How sad I was. How angry I was. How alienated I felt from my peers. How impossible it was to imagine myself fatherless. The chapbook I turned in as a part of my thesis project at Hampshire, Quiet is a Brand of Noise, was peppered with tiny worries of what would become of my family and our stories once my father succumbed to his chronically poor health. My partner at the time was pressuring me to start submitting my writing to be published, and though I was excited to imagine people reading my work, I was equally terrified of exposing my grief to the scrutiny of strangers. It felt shameful to be dwelling so heavily on my father's ever-approaching death, and even more shameful to do so in public.
Against my better judgment, I started sending out the work. It was and is messy for me. I go back and forth between being proud of myself for being able to lift the curtain on what is, for many people, a very private dance between the chill of loss and the glow of nostalgia, and terrified of what making this dance public says about me. Now that we're wrapping up final edits on the book, I just feel tired. When my father was in hospice, a family member asked my then-fourteen-year-old brother Owen how he was doing with everything. He said, "How am I supposed to feel? He's been dying my whole life." Barely out of middle school, and already an existentialist. In seriousness, when he said it, something clicked about how oddly we'd grown up. My father's health problems started long before we were born; they were impossible to separate from our experience of him. The earliest draft of the oldest poem in Pelican is from the fall of 2007, but the stories present in the book are as old as I am, and some of them much older. I've only ever known my dad as someone never quite within my reach, and writing about losing him has been a powerful reminder of how much of his life I still get to share in.
My father's stories, especially the ones he used to tell after a few drinks (ask me sometime about Grace Jones and the Bicentennial), have always been my favorite ones to tell to strangers, so this book was bound to fall out of me in one form or another at some point. Pelican is full of birds and booze and stories (both real and imagined) I've told myself and others about my dad in order to better understand him and me and how we helped and hurt each other.
This Sunday is the three year anniversary of his death, and it's hitting me much harder than it ever has. I'm not sure if that's typical. I'm not sure I could grieve typically if I wanted to. It didn't occur to me until a friend brought it up yesterday, but the anniversary is probably much more present for me this year because of how much time I've been spending with these poems. Another friend tried to console me by saying that at least no one can accuse me of running away from my feelings. In the future, if I ever try to run away from my feelings, I suppose someone can just chuck a copy of this book at my head.
Though the project won't be published until December, poems from Pelican (and work from the new manuscript I've been working on) have been popping up all over the internet recently. The Adirondack Review gave a home to "The Right Words;" "Wishes For The Full Moon" found its way into Cactus Heart; "I'll Admit It" is living over at Word Riot, along with a poem called "I Didn't Mean to Swear in Your Church" that I wrote after watching both versions of the movie Footloose consecutively; and The Bohemyth's most recent issue includes "Rosary For The Blood Moon," the last of my moon poems, as well as "I Remember Loving You Through The Internet" and "I AM HOLDING YOUR SCREAMING BODY WITH HARVARD SQUARE." And at 7 PM on July 12th, I'll be joining a bunch of fabulous lady writers (including my beloved roommate and partner in crime, Cassandra de Alba) for Vector Press's third issue release party at the Moderformations Gallery in Pittsburgh. I have three poems in the issue: "The Age of Instability," "knife play," and "& when the canary stops singing." There will be free food, free drinks, and there's no cover. Come talk about sea birds with me, please please please.