Reflections on reading aloud
June 03, 2013
There's always something surreal about reading from a published book of poems. Once these were fragments of language and image which I snatched out of my consciousness and wrote down. Once these were drafts, going through revision, shifting and changing. Once this was a manuscript. Now it is a published book, no longer susceptible to my changes. I grew it, I revised it, and then my publisher midwifed it into being. (Thanks, Beth!) It feels a little bit like we've cut the umbilical cord; the book exists on its own now, independent of me.
I remember writing these poems, one by one. I had no notion of a manuscript, not then. I started writing one poem a week because it kept me linked with the life I had known before I became a mother, and because in writing weekly mother poems I could aim to sanctify the experience of caring for a newborn. Writing weekly mother poems, as I had for years written weekly Torah poems, allowed me to assert that this new life of around-the-clock infant care was as holy as the words inscribed on parchment. I felt sometimes that writing these poems was an act of saving my own life. (Melodramatic, sure, but it was how I felt at the time. The endocrine sytem is a fascinating thing. Everything felt exaggerated, then.)
Life now is so different. Now we have a lanky, funny three-and-a-half-year-old who has favorite songs and favorite books and favorite cartoons and favorite repetitive jokes -- so different from the infant he used to be. And now there is a book which I can hold in my hands. Now there is a written account of this journey through the wilderness toward the promised land. There's also an odd feeling of glimpsing moments which would otherwise be lost to me. When I read Waiting to Unfold now, especially the poems from the earliest months, I'm humbled by just how difficult that journey was -- and I wonder whether I would remember any of it if I didn't have these poems as a record of what transpired.
The sleep deprivation, the exhaustion, the colic: some of these are the height of ordinariness. Every parent of a newborn learns to subsist on too little sleep. Every nursing mother and every nursing infant have to learn together how a feeding works. (And so on.) And some of what we went through (the postpartum depression) was difficult in extraordinary ways. My memories of those early months are fogged and blurred. I only remember this much because I wrote it down when it was happening. Had I tried to write these poems six months or a year later, I wouldn't have been able to do it. The incremental changes of infancy are lost to me now, except inasmuch as I managed then to capture them in poetry. When I read those poems now, there's a feeling of being outside of myself -- as though I were watching a movie of my own life, from a great distance.
The trajectory of the collection goes from anticipation to lived experience, and then from sorrow to joy. I'm hoping I can convey that trajectory when I read from the collection aloud. Individual poems are like stars in a constellation. Each one gleams, but in order to see the picture the constellation depicts, one needs to be able to draw the lines between them, to perceive the shape made up by their connections. I wonder how the poems will reach people, what response they will evoke. I am grateful to be able to carry this collection into synagogues and bookstores and into people's lives, to share these words with people who might find meaning there.
The first public reading from Waiting to Unfold is today at Knesset Israel synagogue in Pittsfield following the Kosher Hot Lunch at noon; the second one will be on Sunday June 9 at 4pm at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams.