December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, Nick Demske

I'm in Hawaii. Specifically, I'm in a Bali Hai Villa on the island of Kauai. It's a long story. No, actually, the story is a short one: I have amazing and generous friends. In this surreally lackadaisical and sunny setting, where palm trees sway and roosters run wild (liberated from farms by the hurricanes of '82 and '92), I'm trying to keep a vague handle on life at home. In DC, there is ice on the ground and first-pass proofs of DKTBG are waiting to be returned by January 11.

Must... maintain... writerly... discipline. Must stay on top of emails. Must continue to arrange spring readings. Must try, and fail, to tan. So as a symbolic gesture I brought along my copy of the latest Poets & Writers, "The Inspiration Issue." Yesterday, while watching a light rain fall and sipping a pineapple cocktail, I turned to the 6th Annual Debut Poets Roundup.

As Kevin Larimer's intro mentions, the roundup has a familiar rhythm by now: always a poet whose book got picked up on a first send-out, a poet whose MS was chosen after decades of submitting, one poet who focuses on craft, one who treats verse as play, and so on. I always read the feature with a mix of nostalgia, envy, and nausea. I remember the bridesmaid years. Trying different styles, different niches, ordering and re-ordering, waiting for that first big break, watching as others got theirs: God, how awful it was. And yet, how liberating--but appreciated only in hindsight.

Anyway, one of this year's profiled poets is Nick Demske. I've never met him. To be honest, never heard of him before. Age: 27. Residence: Racine, Wisconsin. Graduate Degree: MA in library and information science from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Job: "I mostly shelve books and do other menial circulation tasks at the Racine Public Library." Award: Winner of the 2010 Fence Modern Poetry Series, selected by Joyelle McSweeney. Publisher: Fence Books.

These roundup profiles are not long or substantial texts. Yet there is something about his Q&A on inspiration and advice that is so winning, so poignant, and so simple and honest, that it makes my whole heart smile; it makes me fall in love with poetry all over again. There is importance to this thing we do--and how it affects the lives we live--and I can see it in his answers.

So I'm going to re-type his P&W profile here (with the caveat: go buy a copy of the magazine!), and I'm sure as heck gonna track down his book to read.


Time Spent Writing the Book: Two Years.

Number of Contests Entered: "About ten. I feel lucky the number is so small."

Sample: "In every sumo, there's a little bulimic awaiting a glorious purge." ("Tragic Songstress")

Source of Inspiration: "My mother died of breast cancer before I was half done with the manuscript. That was a big inspiration. The book is, in part, about bad form. The most blatant way that's enacted in the book is through the form of the poems: They're all loose sonnets--love poems, but their content actively resists the form. Words are cut in half to meet rhyme schemes. The line lengths themselves are so long that the book has to be printed sideways--in landscape, rather than portrait orientation. On many levels, the book is many repetitions of forms that are inappropriate for their contents. My mother dying, my lovely mother dying, was largely the inspiration for this. She had a spirit like wildfire, which could brighten anyone she came in contact with. She was smart, insightful; she loved the natural world and she lived the healthiest life of anyone I have ever met. And yet here she was, incoherent, unable to get off the toilet independently, her very own piss a biohazard. She eventually drowned in fluid in her own lungs. The form--her invalid body--was an inappropriate match for her content, that wildfire, her beautiful spirit. It was after this I realized that, in general, the human body is bad form for the human spirit. Bad form. Bad form."

Advice: "Any advice I give in terms of writing could only be the same advice I would give in the more general terms of life: Enjoy yourself, treat people well, don't take writing too seriously, don't take writing too lightly, make friends and loved ones and spend lots of time enjoying that community. Keep your priorities straight."

The photo shows Demske leaning against an anonymous brick wall, in a plain navy t-shirt and a knit green & turquoise cap with Heidi-yarned tassels on either side. Bright smile. He looks a little incredulous at this whole turn of events.

Here's to new authors, new books, new hometowns, new hopes.

Here's to the staff at Poets & Writers for continuing to put out a great magazine, even in an age when magazines feel imperiled.

Here's to 2011, dreams and all.

And here's to you, Nick Demske!

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