For nearly two weeks I've been ready to vomit at the very thought of giving my defense, which is odd for me, because I'm sort of known for reading poems at the drop of a hat, and for anyone who'll listen.
But yesterday was different, and I was panicked and crazed for most of the day. I spent the 24 hours before my defense practicing reading the poems, changing my mind entirely on what to read, cleaning my house, and then deciding that every poem in my ms sucks. How tired! How lifeless these little pieces seemed. Surely, I'm a hack and will not amount to anything. Then, I reread the entire book and decided, grudgingly, that I really had selected the best pieces to read the first time around, and, although they too sucked, they did suck a little less than the rest.
My brother & niece came down to wish me luck with lunch, and my mother, father, grandmother, and cousin also arrived for the reading. We headed over and I was nearly twitching, but you know, outside I looked ice-cool.
The room got really full, and mostly with people I love, although there were some folks I didn't know there. My family sat right up close to where I was.
I started reading. When I get up in front of a group of people, my nervousness turns into a rudimentary form of stand-up comedy. I gave the poems some spare introductions, assuring the room that "Her Breast," while dedicated to Sarah Vap, was not actually about either of Sarah Vap's breasts—a conclusion that I myself hadn't even realized people would draw until Sarah told me her father had found the poem on the internet and thought just that.
There are a series of poems that I read that are what I would consider emotionally autobiographical, although the events they describe are amplified and modified, by they consist of strong language and sexual situations. I told the audience prior to these poems that they were rated "R." Before reading "Straight Men Make Difficult Lovers," I admitted, "This next poem's really good," and I noticed that I meant it.
Reading my work in front of other people saved it for me. My hatred disappeared and, while saying all the words I written, they really came back to life for me.
Afterwards, I was asked some pretty tough questions: How am I using the body as a landscape, and why do the urban landscapes of the early poems start to give way to a more rural body? Do I think I'll keep writing "autobiographical" poems, or am I done? How are my poems political? Etc. My Dad raised his hand to ask a question. He asked, "What happened to the baseball poem?" I said, "Dad, I was 14 then, and it turns out that baseball-as-sex metaphor is pretty played out."
We all left the room. They called me back in afterward, provided me with some wonderful news and feedback, and then I walked out into the hallway to thunderous applause: They liked me! They really liked me! Oh, like I was Sally Field.
A lot of my poems have really overt queer content—I'm talking about shit that would curl your hair—along with drinking, drug use, melodrama, drag queens, go-go boy, sexual content... Several people told me they were not only impressed that I was confident reading them in front of my family, but that my family enjoyed them.
Out in the hall, about to go to happy hour, I hugged my family. My dad was so overwhelmed and happy. My parents said, "We don't understand them when we read them on the page, but hearing you read them out loud--wow. We totally got it."
And then there was a beautiful happy hour full of $2 Conoras with my best friend Patrick, all my dear friends from the program, and even one of my favorite coworkers from Gap.
It was the most beautiful day of my life, I think.