Be Good-at-Being-a-Poet? (Without knowing it)

Last spring I checked a voicemail left by a caller from an unknown number.

To my surprise, it was not someone from my college asking for a donation.

“I’m calling regarding your submission to the Talking Stick journal,” a woman’s voice said. “Give me a call back.”

If you are a writer, maybe you’ve submitted your work to journals and forgotten about it. I am always amused when I receive an email in December regretting to inform me that “we did not select your submission for inclusion in our April issue.”

I called the woman back. In her voicemail, she had called me “Carissa Jean,” which I appreciated, since it is my pen name.

“Hi, this is Carissa Jean,” I said.

“Oh yes! You sent in the poem ‘The Way We Move,’ and that won first place!” I’m not sure if she had an exclamation point in her voice, but that’s how I heard it!!!

I consider myself a mostly-prose writer. You don’t notice a lot of these posts written in poetic format.

I have taken two poem-like writing classes at the Loft – prose poetry and short-shorts – along with many creative nonfiction and memoir classes.

From those two classes, I came away with a handful of little prose poems that I like a lot. Sometimes I enter them as submissions in poetry contests.

My creative nonfiction has never won a prize. But for some reason, my less-favored poetry seems to have better luck.

A few years ago, my poem “Minneapolis at Large” was published in the Chinook Book – a book of coupons. This has given me great joy; I was published in a coupon book! What a deal.

I got a free coupon book, worth thousands of dollars in great discounts (if you spend millions of dollars to get all those offers).

And now this! A real live journal. Not a placemat or a napkin; not that I wouldn’t be honored to be published on food paraphernalia.

The catch – the book release party (!!!) was happening in mid-September.

And Little L was due in August.

The party was three hours away.

Oh, how I longed to read my poem at a book release party. I definitely planned to attend.

“I hope for your sake that you have a one-month old who allows you to go a party three hours away,” Nellie, a wise friend with two small children, offered kindly – and knowingly.

As the date approached, I so wanted to go. But taking Little L seemed like too much work.

Going without her would still be work, but seemed doable.

We had plenty of options for babysitters – who doesn’t want to watch Little L? I consulted my “Offers to Babysit” spreadsheet (that’s right – don’t offer if you don’t mean it; I am definitely keeping track).

I yearned to be that cool mama who continued with her hobbies and showed her young daughter that women can and should pursue their own interests, even when they are mothers.

I wanted to be… independent.

But I just didn’t feel good about going that far away from her yet.

Turns out I wasn’t, at this stage in my life, independent at all.

After much back and forth, I didn’t go. Instead, I organized a special day for myself here in Minneapolis, so that this important day in my writing “career” wouldn’t go unnoticed. My brother and his girlfriend wanted to visit with Little L, so they watched her while Axel obliged my request to go through some papers he’d been promising to downsize.

Meanwhile, I did whatever I felt like.

I went to the farmer’s market on my own and ate an almond croissant and drank a cold press coffee on the steps while writing in my journal. I got my wedding ring cleaned (a cheap way to pamper myself – free jewelry cleanings!). I bought myself two sweaters. Got a pedicure. Went to my favorite café and hung out.

I felt almost – well, independent.

Then I came home and to read my poem to the enthralled audience of my brother, his girlfriend, Axel, and Little L.

“Aren’t you going to read my bio?” I asked Axel before I began. He obliged.

my bio
I don’t object to being called a winner.

“You win a…  baby!” my brother said when I finished the poem.

I lifted Little L out of her crib and held her up high in victory.

It wasn’t a party, but it was a good day.  A different day.

A day I’ll remember.

I had to give myself permission not to go. To be okay to take time to adjust to the realities of new-momness.

I bet you’re wondering about my poem? I signed a contract giving Jackpine Press the rights to it for the next year, so I can’t yet publish it on GWGL.

page from book
You know how people always downplay their excitement? Well I’m not going to. This brings me so much joy!!!

If you’re interested, you can find it here – but you know that I would be the first to warn you against acquiring too much stuff.

A modest check came in this envelope. They published my poem and then paid me for it!? Hard to believe.

What is the point of all this?

After much typing and deleting, I’ll leave it at this:

Just because you think you’re a prose writer, it doesn’t mean you’re not a poet.

Maybe you’re both.