December 17, 2015

What's Next

2015 was a more complicated year than expected. Everyone in my world was doing the heavy lifting of preserving finances, battling illness, and trying to focus plans for the future. I didn't spend time where or how I thought I would. Some things fell through. 

I refuse to be permanently daunted. I might sleep in a few days more darkened winter mornings than necessary. I might fall off the internets for a month or two.  But my takeaways to 2016 include a happy, healthy kitty (at last!); a collection of poetry bound for paperback; and a busy schedule of spring readings and travel. 

I want to write essays. I am ready to write essays. But first and foremost, I will always be a poet--and I'm so, so grateful to everyone who spent time with Count the Waves this year. That includes the painter who sent me a snapshot of my book sprawling on his Persian rug,  and another of his "inner flamingo" navigating the palm fronds outside his home. 

That includes the incredibly talented cartoonist down in Florida who sends funny, empathetic stories, who has shown me how poetry touches a life shaded in hardship. It has been years since I had a pen-pal. (My last official pen-pal-ship ended badly, when I tried to send her a gift--a hand-wrapped, decorated pencil--which got caught up in the USPS machines and shredded. Took two months for it to bounce back as "DAMAGED." She didn't realize I'd tried to reply and, hurt, fell into silence. I was 12.) That also includes the US Army JAG officer who, because he is used to the strange angles and compressions of writing in code, was drawn to the Traveler's Vade Mecum series. "I am [5450]," led off his note. 

That includes the community of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which has been publishing my poems about Southern culinary traditions in their quarterly journal, GRAVY, which was honored with the 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Publication of the Year. Our found rhythm includes working with artist Natalie K. Nelson, who has a great sense of humor. Her illustrations illuminate. The downside is that sometimes I worry that the "poetry world" doesn't realize I'm even writing poems. The upside is in October, I went down to Oxford, Mississippi, and read for an audience of restauranteurs, chefs, farmers, food purveyors and lovers. The experience was honestly the highlight of my year, entirely outside of any literati-industrial complex.

If there is a writer who has meant something to you in the past year, I can't say this loudly enough: reach out to her or him. Let authors know how their work, old or new, touched you. Sometimes such notes can be the lifeline in an otherwise impossible day. 

I had a conversation the other night about that haunting question, "What's next?" We always hear it as judgment, e.g., What you've done so far is not enough. But it really is a vote of confidence. What's next? Everything. One word at a time. 


Michael Wells said...

Sandra - I will take you up on your suggestion to reach out to a writer that has meant something to you this year. Hearing you read at AWP was a delight and I followed that up by adding three of your books (Theories of Falling, I was the Jukebox and Count the Waves) to my poetry library. Wonderful reads, each. At some future point I hope you have a reason to travel to Missouri to do a reading, (or throw one of your parades) and even better if it's close to Kansas City. I'd love to hear you read again and perhaps get you to sign one of these books.

Thanks for making my year a little more meaningful.

I hope 2016 is a kick-ass year for you. Here's to more poetry!

Sandra said...

Michael, thanks SO much for your words here, and for the continuing support of my work. There are a few possible reading venue in MO and KS that are on my radar, so now I know to keep you posted if I confirm a trip. Best wishes for the holidays and the year ahead~


Gianna Russo said...

Oh Sandra, lucky you to have read for the Southern Foodways Alliance. Southern food (or any food, really) and poetry--a delicious match!

Good for you and for them. Cheers and salute!

(If you've haven't watched A Chef's Life on PBS, you must!)