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Outro

By Keith Wilson

 

There is technically nothing stopping us from dressing up throughout the year.  Social awkwardness notwithstanding, we enjoy it and yet we must go through the motions of designing days and engagements where it happens. 

 
But more than an enjoyment, communication is our lifeblood as humanbeings.  A strange thing that we poets, who are especialy known for our words,  often similiarly need to be formally convinced to speak, whether through opportunities like this or by necessity (outrage).

 
When I figure it out, I will write on it.

 
I just wanted to thank everyone for reading and TBR for allowing me to speak! Happy Halloween!!

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By Keith Wilson

 

           Maybe the stories most worth sharing are the ones we cannot stop ourselves from playing over in our minds. Crystal Wilkinson says we write about our haunts.  Stories that will not leave us.

 
            To the point: I oversee a computer lab at Chicago State University where students of English come for tutoring or help with the actual technical aspect of formatting a paper on a computer.  After one of the classes let out, a lady perhaps a little older than my mother came to me in tears, and shaking, because she could not figure out how to add her name to the header of her Word file.  I helped her, all the time wondering why she acted as if I might suddenly abandon her to utter failure.

 
            It turns out, this is exactly what she was afraid of.

 
            I won’t speak too specifically out of respect for her privacy, but the woman shared with me that she is completely computer illiterate.  She doesn’t know how to turn on a computer, how to type, or how to open or save files.  And she is being required, now, to write her take-home essays and finish her tests, format them correctly, attach them as emails, and send them to her professors by due dates which are of course designed around the reasonable time it would take to complete such a task if you were able to work a computer.  This, or risk failure. 

 
            She has asked her much younger classmates for help, but the responses she has received range from her being completely ignored (sometimes for that student’s own paper’s sake), to being treated with rude impatience. There are kinder students, too, who take on the good-natured-but-ultimately-unhelpful roles of magicians who click through her menus in a fury, never teaching anything.

 
            But not to be too harsh on her classmates: it is not any student’s responsibility to teach this woman, who, I would learn, is back in school because of a disability that prevents her from teaching.  She was a teacher herself, for over 20 years, teaching a second language to students.  Part of her story was spoken in this other language, then again in English.

             This is writing.  Why do I write, if not to share her story, or my own; what I feel to see an elder beginning to see her own abandonment? 

 
             Poetry is a privilege.  All of art is.  Societies which are starving do not, on the whole, create a significant body of art.  I keep that in mind when I write.  As necessary as it feels, as poetic as it feels to say that I would die without poetry, (how many times have I read this in an interview with an artist?) it just isn’t true in the ways I think we imply.  I would die without food, or water.  When my writing leaves this plain of feeling, gets too far from what is actually life, what I am writing (already a privilege) becomes even less immediately necessary. 

 
              But if poetry itself is a privilege, then abstract or difficult poetry is something like a peacock of privilege.  It can become dangerous, it is so un-dangerous.  If I feel what I felt as I listened to this former teacher’s story, and I write something which is not immediately accessible (and yes, poetry needn’t always be plainspoken or ‘simple’), am I writing about this woman at all?  If not, why not?  What is more important than her, and why?

 
               If I am, if my poetry reflects actual experience and emotional difficulty, I am fine with it being ‘difficult.’ But again, if I am not, who am I writing for?  I pray it is not for the poets.

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By Keith Wilson

 

Facebook is a strange game because by design, you are generally preaching to the choir.  If I wax politic on Michele Bachmann, my quips will go unheard by anyone on the far-right because I don’t have many friends who are radically opposed to my opinions.  It is perhaps difficult to keep  those kinds of friends.  Any time one goes on a political rant, changes their profile photo to support a cause, or post a Huffington Post article elucidating our latest endeavor into inhumane darkness, it falls on ears already attuned to those notions and unaffected in the radical sets of action one hopes to elicit.
 
I do, however, have a lot of friends who are white.  So there is yet a bastion for consistent political debate.
 
To the point: there is a deep-rooted scar within the American psyche as it pertains to what is good and fair.  There are far too many who think that to avoid doing bad is to be good, and that to actively (intend to) treat one another with equality is to be fair.
 
It is a frightening notion to think that doing nothing might be bad (especially if you have spent a lifetime doing it) and even worse for a so-called liberal mind to suddenly realize that its good intentions, as they exist, might be powerless to the system it benefits from.  What I mean to say is this:  White people on Facebook hate it when you talk about white people on Facebook.
 
Recently, a friend who is of as ambiguous a racial background as I (call it exotic?  Please.) posted how much he hates it when white folks (it is ALWAYS white folks) ask him “What are you?”  There was some shock; many could not believe anyone really asks it in quite this way.  I chimed in and assured them that yes, people really ask it that way.  Other ways: 
                                 Where are you from? 
                                 Where are your parents from? 
                                 Are you Mexican? 
                                 You look like a friend of mine who is Puerto Rican. 
                                 You have a very interesting look. 
Ad nauseum if you work in a grocery store, for instance, where a person has the privilege (oh privilege!) of saying what they want without you having the privilege of being able to say whatever it is YOU want to say.
 
And what got me about this conversation was the sudden outrage by a few voices (the same I have heard in beginner sociology classes, and in casual conversations at restaurants or movie theatres) that we might say that this was perpetuated by “white people” instead of stating, perhaps, that we hate it when any human being does it.  They seem to miss, first, that these are categories that are made important in American culture as a whole, yes, but with which they can only benefit and we can only suffer from.
 
When unloading trucks during college, I heard a coworker refer to me, to my boss, as “that Egyptian kid.” I had to wonder what that term could possibly mean to the positive.  Working part-time in the deli, during high school, when someone jokingly referred to me as Muhammad, was it ever with reverence?  And honestly, it becomes hard to even talk about the subject with a white person—one who has taken such offense—when I think about all the times I have been called Mexican, and the way it was always said.  To hear it for so many years as an epithet, it is impossible for me now not to cringe a little when I hear the word.  Mexican.  Someone from Mexico, a country.  Like Negro, it is a word that has its own connotation of hate which someone might not even mean anything by even as they fuel it with meaning.
 
So what, then, is fairness?  White America seems to believe fairness is hundreds of years of going to work without pay, and then suddenly being paid, at first, a few cents a day for the same job, and all of it followed by the cheerful exclamation “Better get running, so you can catch up!”  That is to say, it only seems fair to treat two individuals the same, even if you ignore institutional racism entirely, because the fairness is so short-lived. And not even always consistent.

When I hear someone get up at arms about my even having mentioned how insulting it is to be guessed at (but they didn’t even mean anything by it!), I cannot help but think that what is really fair is for the world to stop watching White-American movies, reading White-American books.  Nobel Prizes, and Pulitzers and Olympic medals should be withheld from anyone of European ancestry.  Every white poet alive today should have to struggle at small presses and find themselves in the strange position of hoping that a people not interested in their work become, suddenly, interested.  They should strive to transcend their race (be white Will Smiths).  And this should go on for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
 
Is that fair?  It certainly doesn’t feel fair.  But the beginning of what is fair is to understand that as nice as one’s intentions are, they are not necessarily good.  If that is not your fault, it certainly is not mine.  Or beyond even this: to first, without preconceived arguments and perceived injustices bubbling up before an actual sentence has been formed, take part in a single selfless act:  Just listen.

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On Process

By Keith Wilson

 

I write.  A lot.  Sometimes other writers (poets especially) hope someday for this; they express a desire to write, and often.  Naturally, right?  What could be wrong with writing copiously?

 

But when someone asks me how I do it, sit down and force myself to write a poem(even when I don’t wanna), I can’t find it in myself to say that they ought to do the same.  I’ll let them know what I do, but I’m also loathe to say that they should feel bad about the amount of time they spend writing.  At least, not comparatively.  I mean, do I regret the amount of time I personally spend alone with words?  Not at all.  But more and more I am beginning to realize that writing is as personal an act as poems are reflections of their creators.  What, really, can I say that applies so universally as to make it advice instead of circumstantial happenstance (coincidentally, the name of my band, if I ever learn to play the guitar.  Circumstantial Happenstance).

 

Young writers especially love to ask about process.  To compare their actions to those of a master, like one might watch baseball or boxing reels to study form.  Just try to watch an interview with a Toni Morrison without someone asking how she writes (never just for the sake of writing, as it turns out.  She must be feeling it, so to speak).  For me, I’ve realized that staring at a blank screen is a cyclical, self-feeding monster so I refuse to do that.  And yes, I do all my writing now on a computer.  It’s not romantic, but then, neither was a pen back when bards memorized all their work and sang it.  It’ll be romantic some day.  Sigh.

 

So for me, the first step is to just begin writing. Call it free-writing, except that I am comfortable enough now to know what part of my gibberish is not worth saving and needs to remain gibberish, and which part of it needs to immediately become the poem.  There are days when it takes some starting, but I can jump right into it like I never could years ago.  I have conditioned myself to write through people yelling on the bus, or in half an hour between unloading boxes from a truck, or WHILE loading a truck, in quick spats on a piece of cardboard.  This is the kind of process I think writers with children would love to tap into, but do they really?  I will not claim that the poems I write between the lines of work are masterpieces, not even when compared only to the rest of my work.  Nor is actual work I’m being paid for ever greatly improved by my decided lack of attention. 

 

It is my personalized process.  One crafted by a poet who cares not for his (now former) minimum wage paying jobs and who is unafraid of writing, for an entire month, complete garbage, so long as he continues to write.  I want to ask, sometimes, when someone wants to write consistently: “Are you okay with writing what should never be published?”  If the answer is no, I can’t argue with them.  They’re looking for a different process than I am involved in.

 

Granted it does not hurt to ask about process.  I’m sure there are people who have been helped, and I admit that it is interesting to me as well.  But I think, especially with new writers, we get hung up either on having a process handed to us, or in validating our own process, which really, this is the sort of thing that we learn entirely on our own through trial and error.  Maybe it’s like cooking.  Reading a cookbook, listening close to your grandma, watching the Food Network.  There are some things to learn, but if that’s where you spend your time, you will find that when it comes time to actually cook, you can’t even peel an onion.  But even this is wrong, because there is a ‘right’ way to do certain things.  Schools that teach you the proper way to chop celery, and methods that just cannot be avoided if you want the bread to rise.  This is chemistry and science, not poetry. 

 

All this is to say that perhaps there is no process.  Only poets.

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