Stalking the Writer’s Life: Celebrating Kathy Aguero |
This is not a tease to get you interested in my new book, Love, Sex and 4-H due out from Wayne State University press April 1 (no joke). Instead, I’ve landed firmly in a literary cliché: my New Year’s resolution to start a blog to support the book lags by a month. Why? I’m scared, nervous, and procrastinating by obsessively checking email or Facebook—surely someone out there will ask me to write (or respond to) something other than what I said I would write. But no, email is quiet and FB consists of post holiday gruel punctuated by here-and-there happy news for me to “like.” The pre-commitment excitement that normally bolsters my goals has disappeared—poof—if it ever existed. And as a result, I just know my new book, Love, Sex and 4-H, my entirely quirky next memoir, due out in just two short months will not have proper mothering. I know the book needs to be nurtured, mentored, supported—a point my publicist and editor made when they suggested, no insisted, I start a blog, saying almost in unison that it would be easy for me because I’ve a strong ego and I’m an extrovert.
Those are the necessary qualities for a successful blog? Eeeuwww. Of course, I personally think they are dead wrong on both counts, but I agreed to start said blog, said, New Years and so here we are a month later. What is the problem? Is it the title? Yes, that’s part of it, but more on that later. Promise.
So when I whine to my boss, the beautiful Meg Kearney, director of the Solstice MFA program, she says with the infinite wisdom that makes her one of the best directors among writing programs, “Why not write about some other writers first.” I’m stunned to silence because that is exactly what I want to do. I don’t want to write about my new book because, yes, I’m scared and not sure how to do that yet. I mean what does it really mean to have love, sex and good ole American 4-H clubs all in one book. See what I mean?BUT to write about the writers who I adore, that’s just literary pleasure. So, to ease into this whole project, that’s how I’ll start. A little later on, next week maybe, I’ll tell you the stories of Love, Sex and 4-H, maybe the one about how my mother made me model with a broken nose, bless her, or how I made a mini dress of a Cinderella gown gone bad, bless me. But not yet. Right now, I’ve got other writers I want to share with you. But soooooon…
So, here’s the first. While I was teaching at the Solstice MFA winter residency, I listened to many fine poets. One poet, Kathy Aguerro, left me breathless. During her reading, Kathy introduced a new poem she had written about Emily Dickinson while sitting in Emily’s Amherst home, well… not just her home, but in her room, yes, her bedroom in that house in Amherst. That room. Emily’s bedroom. Which was being restored to look as it did in Emily’s time. Kathy was one of the poets invited to come to Emily Dickinson’s house and sit for an hour in her bedroom. And write for the “bedroom restoration celebration.” Geesh. Kathy claimed she had not been successful in her endeavor. She claimed she had not accomplished much, but then she read, “My hour in Miss Dickinson’s Room.” Maybe it was because a hundred years ago I played the role of Emily Dickinson in Belle of Amherst, or maybe it was because I have been teaching a unit on Emily Dickinson for something like a hundred years, each spring, to students who say Emily Who? I watch them fall in love with her poems. But it was most certainly Kathy’s poem. There I was, lost in the lovely juxtaposition of her awareness of literary history and her own awareness of our time. Kathy placed herself in the real situation, and she built from what she experienced, the overwhelming moment of intimidation, sitting in that room with that BIG awareness of what she was supposed to do set beside her understanding of what the world is today. So instead of reaching for some high-fallutin’ idea too obtuse for words, as I might have done, she sat with the real moment and acknowledged what it was, and drew in the Emily about whom we all wonder. Kathy’s poem (last stanza below) invited me to sit in that room with her, feeling the contradictions, coming to some crisis felt all the way from Emily’s bedroom to our streets—
You wrote on scraps of paper, copies now laminated
on your table. I write on scraps out of furtiveness,
misplaced frugality. Miss Dickinson, what did you mean:
My Life had stood— a Loaded Gun—? Scholars still contest that line.
Now many lives stand loaded guns, tight coiled, waiting.
They shoot at others then themselves.
Two gunshots on my quiet street the other day.
Whatever you meant, it’s true yet. You singular,
how did you know your genius?
Kathy Aguerro, from My Hour in Miss Dickinson’s Room
That would have been enough for me to ponder for a while, but Kathy is a tiny woman with delicate features and lovely white curly hair, so when she went on to read her “Self Portrait as an Angry Dog,” everyone cracked up–and that’s pacing. She read a series of self-portraits inspired by self-portraits of artists. What I love about Kathy’s work is that she keeps inventing new ways to get at the poems. She has written everything from Nancy Drew poems to mythology poems. She keeps finding new ways to do it, always with a way to invite me in, and each time, she inspires me.