In Which the Revelatory “THIS Is What I’ll Do With My English Degree” Strikes Again

English majors grapple with the “where will this take me?” question on a daily basis. It looms over us when we’re six hours into a critical essay, when we’re holed up in our rooms instead of outside with our friends because we have a poem in our heads that just has to be written, or when we’re making small talk with nosy distant relatives at family reunions. I find that the “problem” (and I use that term loosely, the reason for which I will get to in a second) is just how many places an English degree can take us. How do we decide which path to take? What if we want to follow more than one? Of course, the number of directions we can go with our degrees can also be seen as a blessing, because we have the freedom to choose from so many unique fields knowing that we’re prepared for practically anything our careers will throw at us. I think the French phrase “avoir l’embarras du choix”–to be spoiled by how many choices one has–perfectly captures how I feel when I consider my future after Geneseo.

Anyway, the point of this post was to talk about how much my future plans have changed (because of feeling I have so many options), but also how I’ve now come back to a field I had previously considered–publishing. I originally considered getting into editing/publishing because I (wrongly) believed it was just correcting spelling and grammar in things people write, something that I think has always come naturally to me. Now I know that’s what copyediting is, and that editors do something much different. I learned a lot about editing and publishing as part of the Gandy Dancer class this past spring, and even more just last night at the publishing Q&A Rachel Hall organized with an author and her editor. Although by the end of last semester I wasn’t sure I have what it takes to work in publishing, I’ve been reconsidering it the past few days. The problem was that before, I didn’t really have a reason for wanting to work in publishing besides that I didn’t know what else to do with an English degree, since I don’t want to teach (unless it’s at the college level, but that’s another dream I’m not so confident about). But recently I realized one of the things I love the most about being an English major–reading my peers’ creative work. I LOVE workshopping peers’ poetry, whether written by all of you ­čÖé , written by people in my Foundations class last fall, or submitted to Gandy Dancer last semester. I almost┬áenjoy reading stuff my fellow undergrads write more than reading an established poet’s published collection… Now, this realization is making me lean towards editing perhaps for a college literary journal or a small press, which is great because it means I don’t necessarily have to “make it” in a big competitive publishing house in a big city–good news since I have yet to find my inner Carrie Bradshaw. I would be much more comfortable somewhere smaller. I just really enjoy reading young writers’ work; there’s something so inspiring about poets still finding their voices, writing stuff that blows me away while I know they’ll only get better from here because they’re still young and so full of potential.

So, there’s my recurring English major rant. Tune in next week for “I’ve Decided to Join the Circus After All” (let’s hope not).

Review: “Matins” by Louise Gl├╝ck

Since I’m struggling to think of what to blog about, I figured I would just write about a poem I really like. I came across Louise Gl├╝ck’s book The Wild Iris one day last winter when I was in the library looking for books to take out just for fun. I was choosing, as I have the bad habit of tending to choose books, by covers and the vibes they gave off (I know I sound like some weird hippy). The cover of The Wild Iris┬áreminded me of an art project I did at summer camp some years ago where we pressed flowers to pieces of fancy photo paper, left them out in the sun, and were left with cool negative prints. So of course, the book gave off a “good vibe” and of course, I borrowed it and loved it. The poem “Matins” (the second poem in the book by that title) turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s a religious poem, which for some reason I’ve been drawn to lately, specifically ones like this where the speaker is struggling with their faith and there’s a palpable tension between human imperfection/rebellion and godly “tough love.”

The poem starts very unexpectedly, with┬áthe first line addressing God not by something typical like “dear Lord,” but instead “Unreachable father.” The word “unreachable” speaks volumes–the God of Judaism and Christianity (which is who I assumed is the god in this poem because of the next line mentioning an exile from paradise) is supposed to be omnipresent and ever-listening; so what has happened to make God “unreachable,” as if his telephone wire has been cut? Where does the fault lie–on God for not hearing what the speaker is communicating, or on the speaker for not successfully communicating? The speaker continues by describing humanity being cast out of paradise and sent to “a replica, a place in one sense / different from heaven, being / designed to teach a lesson: otherwise / the same–beauty on either side, beauty / without alternative– Except / we didn’t know what was the lesson.” I love the “beauty on either side, beauty / without alternative” line. The first part makes me think of the world in a more collective way; rather than a vast globe broken into continents and seas and countries with pockets of good and bad, the earth is a whole, simple thing, almost like a sheet of paper, with beauty on both of its faces. The second part reminds me how abstract and yet unfathomed some human values, like beauty, are; beauty is an absolute that cannot be broken down into smaller terms, try as we might. I think one could substitute “God” in both lines for “beauty,” but the fact that it is “beauty” rather than “God” almost makes it seem like the humans in this poem have been shallowly worshipping appearances rather than their creator.

Next, the speaker talks about how the humans “left alone… exhausted each other” and then “Years / of darkness followed; we took turns / working the garden, the first tears / filling our eyes as earth / misted with petals, some / dark red, some flesh colored.” I love the feeling here of humans being left to learn their lesson the hard way, forced to forge lives without the guidance of God. Then finally, after all the suffering and toil, they have succeeded in producing something good. The red and pink imagery of the fruit of their labor felt very corporeal and raw to me–it reminded me of a heart, a stomach, or even a newborn. I love the line “misted with petals” partly because I love flowers as a metaphor for life(-giving), and partly because “misted” makes me think of “spray” like in a spray of flowers which, although it sounds pretty, is typically only used for funerals. The tension between life and death that this creates is really interesting. The last few lines are “We never thought of you / whom we were learning to worship. / We merely knew it wasn’t human nature to love / only what returns love.” Here is another abstract, unfathomed value–love– and humans discovering it for the first time. Real love, I think, is given unconditionally, with no expectation of getting any back (although one may hope). Humanity continued to cultivate the earth through “Years / of darkness,” showing it love even when it yielded nothing at first. I love the accessibility and relevancy of the poem’s theme–practicing love, no matter what.

The poem can be found here if you flip through the front matter and past the first two poems. http://www.harpercollins.com/web-sampler/9780880013345

The Boldness of Lucy Anderton’s Sestina

While flipping through Fishouse, I found Lucy Anderton’s “Eve’s Sestina for Adam” and was immediately drawn to its sheer attitude. Here is the unapologetic voice of a woman who wants more and goes for it. Eve’s is a rare voice of female tenacity in a world where “He” (presumably God) “only could hear one side” (presumably that of Adam and all other men). I admire this Eve’s candor (“Clearly put, I was not born to be one / more pretty poppy in that garden”) and go-getter philosophy (“I wanted one / of your ribs. So I took it”). I also like the confessional tone of the poem, as if Eve is someone explaining herself in a police interrogation. Anderton as a poet is also pretty bold, as a sestina is a challenging form to master (and master she has, in this poem). I also thought it was a bold move on the poet’s part to use a homophone in the second stanza for one of her six end-words (“heirs” in place of “air”).