Just got finished typing the 30 poems I wrote in April for National Poetry Month. What was I thinking when I wrote them? They’re … angry. I could sit and analyze, compare the poems with journal entries from that month and make connections, but I don’t think that answers the question of what was I thinking. I can discern the issues, but reading these poems was more than funneling emotion into my work. These go beyond the day-to-day frustration of life and the white people problems (as Louis CK calls them) that plague my privileged little life.
I write from a place of rage. I don’t know where this rage comes from. It’s not as evident in my fiction because with fiction, there’s a certain remove. Poetry, however, is an unforgiving mirror. It’s not that I’m writing directly about anger. More like it’s an undercurrent for everything. This is not wholly surprising to me; this is not a new revelation. Pattiann Rogers, visiting the poetry writing class at Longwood in 1997, said of my poem Dinner Etiquette that I was very angry about something. Which I attempted to dismissing with the whole idea of poetry being fiction and that the emotions in the poem had nothing to do with me. Which is the bullshit I put up in defense of finding myself so exposed. Yes, I’m angry.
It’s tempting to blame the rage on my parents’ divorce when I was fourteen and the way neither of them seemed to realize they weren’t the only ones going through it. I could blame it on the lack of support and encouragement I got in any activities I attempted to engage in when I was a kid. But really, those things are scapegoats. They don’t alone account for the anger. It was there before all that. I don’t know. I don’t know that I need to pinpoint it. I’m curious, though. Was there something in my childhood, maybe something I don’t even remember, that flipped some switch in me? Or is that scene I swear I remember from when I was maybe two, my brother in a car seat, my father, drunk, pinning my mother down across the seat of the car and yelling in her face? Is it even a real memory? Yes, I think so, because I know where that parking lot is and the bar; I remember the car; I remember the weird light of the parking lot, orange and purple. I’ve always remembered that scene. It’s not something that was told to me later than I pretend to remember. No one has ever talked about that night. But I know it happened. Was that enough to turn me into a perpetually angry young man?
That’s another thing–thinking of myself as male. That’s all over these 30 poems, and it’s way more complicated than having a male persona. But I’ve thought of myself as male for years. In 3rd grade, I insisted on wearing my long hair tucked up under a baseball hat because I couldn’t be a boy with long hair. My teacher, Mrs. Johnson, would tell me we wanted girls in class, not boys, and I could only take the hat off and wonder why girls were better. I spent a semester of American lit in college defending men when we read things like The Yellow Wallpaper and the women would get catty and the men in class were silent. Not that I was saying bad behavior was okay, but it was a perspective not being presented, and I didn’t think it was at all fair to ignore that voice.
Is that enough for rage? The mistake of my gender? Or the not really knowing if it’s a mistake or how to live this way or define myself or whatever. Because, when I was a kid, thinking a sex change was a simple thing, I promised I’d be getting that when I was legally an adult. Hmm. I don’t know. That’s a different issue, I think.
I don’t think the rage needs an explanation or an origin. It’s there. It will always be there. It will manifest as it will or won’t, and there’s not much I can do either way. I can make sure it continues to be healthy–not like when I was a kid, cutting myself or breaking things. The rage never seeped out in my blood or scatter with the shattered glass of a jar against a wall. I think it only burrowed deeper at those times, becoming a slow seething thing that only boils over every once in a while. And only in my writing. As long as it’s only there, I don’t need answers or cures.