Day Four — A Student

 

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The window is black, a mirror of my morning, messy hair, dark glasses, the white light of the Apple logo on my computer the brightest spot in the reflection.

This is how I start, describing what I see — the sky, trees, the old silo on the horizon, a bluebird, a crow, the last johnny jump-up in the garden. Then I try to stretch the image to mean more than it says. That’s what poetry is, for me, pulling words past themselves, layering meaning so an image creates associations that reverberate in unexpected directions. I usually give some direction in my poems, a thread of narrative to help pull the reader along the arc of language, sometimes more directly than others. But there have to be leaps, moments when the reader crosses over from a literal reading to a sense of something more and know that whether that something is exactly what I, the poet, meant doesn’t matter. I explode/inside my own brain, I want other brains/to explode. Another line from The Truth About Death.

Crafting images that speak for more than themselves in prose isn’t any more difficult in individual images, but learning to do it effectively across a much longer and more linear narrative, in a novel or memoir or even essay, is more difficult for me, mostly, I hope, because I’ve done so much less of it. But I’m learning.

And that’s something I’ve loved about the new life I’ve created since leaving full-time work. I left my job to write, imagining myself as a full-time writer, forgetting how much else I do – mother, partner, friend, daughter, sister, board member, hiker, triathlete, runner and especially absorbing, grandmother. My imagined future of hour upon hour at my desk and books pouring out of me hasn’t happened but I do write more than I did and what I’ve loved is learning to write better, especially in genres I’d only dabbled in before.

Last summer I studied novel writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference (with Andre Dubus III who was a terrific teacher) and was the person in the room with the least experience writing fiction. I loved it.  When I was working, I was never the person in the room with the least experience, and often was the person with the most. I was the teacher, leader, boss, presenter.

Now I’m the student and it’s exhilarating. It’s a relief, to learn and not teach.

 

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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