Friday, July 4, 2014

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project, Day 4:
On the Nature of Wallflowers

I’m four days into the Tupelo Press 30/30 poem-a-day writing marathon. Four poems down; twenty-six to go. (Yikes—wish I hadn’t said that.)
  One thing that this well-organized marathon provides is instant camaraderie. Already, we nine July poets have our own “secret” Facebook page, and a lot of good-natured conversation is getting swapped around. They’re skilled poets and witty Facebook buds, and I’m having a good time.
  But it’s early days and, as with so many other poem-a-day groups, I feel a tinge of awkwardness mixed with the camaraderie. Inevitably in these things, as the compliments and comments begin to fly, I always worry that we’ll leave someone out, or that I’ll praise someone’s work too much (because it really kicks ass) and short-shrift* someone else without realizing it. We writers are a sensitive lot—but, you know, we humans are a sensitive lot.
  Of course, the short-shrift phenomenon doesn’t just happen in poetry marathons. Certain groups seem to have a built-in mechanism for producing wallflowers. At a dance, for instance, crowd dynamics usually dictate that a few people won’t get asked to dance, or at least not right away. And it’s not like they can’t dance or anything; they’re perfectly good people, fully realized and talented (though maybe the neon socks were a bad choice). For whatever reason, the school of fish shifts away, and a few people end up alone. I laugh as I write this, because that was so often me, standing there in my new purple dress and swaying alone to “Colour My World,” trying to look like it was no big deal that the rest of eighth grade was dancing without me in a slow-moving, impenetrable whirlpool.
  So maybe that dance trauma is what’s at the back of my mind when I worry about inadvertently making someone into a wallflower, or becoming one myself—good God, I’m standing here again, studying my empty Dixie cup! But now I’ve been to a lot of dances—ones where I was the belle of the ball, and others where I was that shy and awkward girl—and I see that it’s all a pretty arbitrary business.
  Which is a long way of saying: Here’s to you, fellow marathoners. I think you all are dynamite dancers.

* I always thought “short shrift” had something to do with short-sheeting, that old campground prank. Wrong: Its original meaning was much more grave, something to do with “little time between condemnation and execution.”

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