Sunday, April 8, 2012

How I Planted (and uprooted) the Garden

I'm taking a little break from feverishly writing poems for the weekend. My publisher asked me to write a narrative on how I came up with my book. Goodness, nothing is more awkward than writing about your own poems. But, alas, Publisher is Publisher and well, Poet must listen to Publisher. It's... how nature works!

Anyway, here's my little "essay" so far.

How I Planted (and Uprooted) The Garden
 
I've always been a reader, the worst and best kind all wrapped up into one. I was that awkward girl, you know the one with the bad skin that hangs out at the library. Yeah, that was me. I was hungry, taking in the stories of fairy tales as a kid, escaping to a realm of mythological beasts and fancies, and diving into the worlds constructed by my favorite novels. I'll admit it; I spent the better part of my teenage years fantasizing about Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, wishing someone just like him would move next door to me. I thought I just had to wait, look out my window, and someday, my life will begin and end in a whirlwind of “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.” To a girl like me, that was the world I lived in – the world of books. It was so much more enticing than the real world, the gritty and dirty one at my fingertips.

Books, television shows, movies, the stories we hear – all of these powers have an amazing influence on how we see ourselves and how we imagine our place in the world around us. Perhaps they're the seeds of who we are, of our identities. We're all that girl running scared through the enchanted forest. Everyone has kissed a few frogs. We've all dared to bite that provocative apple. These are the collective cultural experiences that make up the core of who we are, that is, if we nurture the seeds an take them into ourselves.

But what if you can rewrite the stories: take those seeds, uproot, and transplant them? I wanted to change these tales, revise them to depict a more complicated world, a world more true to my own experiences. I wanted to live in a forest where Red Riding Hood has fangs, a world where frogs hang out in night clubs (because, let's face it, they do), where Eve has a garden filled with designer dresses instead of flowers and fruits. Through the poems in my first collection, that's what I set out to do, to open up the conversation about the stories we're told as children and carry within us through to adulthood. After all, as a woman, I don't have to be the victim. I don't have to wait for a huntsman to save me from the belly of, well, anything. I don't have to wait for Mr. Darcy to move in next door for my life to begin. All I have to do is open up my window. All I have to do is uproot the garden.

So that's how it all began – I was a reader first, a devourer of literature and culture, and a writer second. I began working my first poetry collection, The Garden Uprooted, about seven years ago, though I didn't really realize I was doing such a thing. I was simply writing the poems of my experiences, as both a reader and as a woman, experiences that were both real and imagined. I loved writing poems because each one had its own world, its own story to tell, its own truth.

I grew up in Deep South Texas, so a lot of the poems in this collection carry the influence of the landscape – natural, cultural, and linguistic. And certainly, in this text, there are a lot of poems that chronicle how the speaker builds her identity, finds her place in the prickly landscape, finds her own roots. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that the poems are confessional, I certainly draw influence from my life and experiences being a woman in this contested space of the borderlands. The narrative strung throughout the collection is fictional, though rooted in the truths of my experiences as human being searching for the answer to that very universal question of “Who am I?”

I wish I could say that I had all this in mind when I set out to writing this collection. The truth is, though, that I didn't. I wrote poems that I wanted to read, poems that I felt were truthful, authentic, and raw. With a big pile of poems on my lap, there had to be some order to this chaos, a manuscript in the mess. I began looking for common themes in my work, and began to find the inherent order to my poems, the method to all the madness. Frost once wrote, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” This manuscript was filled with surprises and discoveries for me, and hopefully, the same will ring true for my readers. Just watch your step – in this uprooted garden of imagination, you're sure to find some very real and warty toads.

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