When my first book, The Esbat Sequence, came out in 2012, I got to work almost immediately on the sequel. I knew what came next, which is rare (and often unimportant) in poetry. I worked for nearly a year, in and around my responsibilities as a performing musician, and got a fair way into the book, somewhere around a hundred pages.
At the end of August 2013, I stumbled upon a short anime film called The Garden of Words. I do enjoy the genre, particularly the oneiric films of Hayao Miyazaki, but I am not a committed anime fan. Still, that cover was so green! I had to know more …
I admit, I pirated it, right then and there. (Don’t worry, I bought a copy soon after, and a few of Makoto Shinkai’s other works as well.) I watched it twice that first day, entranced by the color, the sound, the tone … this was art of a very high level, emotional, suggestive, without being heavy handed.
Part of the plot revolves around the two main characters reciting a poem to each other, a Japanese form called a tanka, which I’d heard of but never tried to write. Inspired by the beauty of the film, I wrote one, which made me very happy. I don’t remember anything else about that day.
The following day, I was still thinking about Yukari & Takao. I thought I might try my hand at another tanka. Another one came, which once again made me happy. This kept happening. Suddenly it was a week later. Then suddenly Autumn was blooming. Something was happening.
As all of this was going on, I could sense that after over three decades of playing music, nearly two of those professionally, the cycle of performing & recording, of my constantly aching body, of putting on a show and being this heightened version of myself all the time, was winding down.
This contrasted sharply, however, with the fact that I was busier and more successful professionally in the Autumn / Winter of 2013 / 14 than I’d ever been. I was in a popular local band, playing for lots of happy people and making good money. But all I could think of was, “This is taking me from my writing … “
By this point, I had stopped thinking of what I was writing as tanka, and started calling them five line poems. Just as Kerouac found his own way to work with the shorter haiku form, I felt that I wanted to use the brevity and clarity of the form, but not be tied to its restrictions if they didn’t suit me.
By the time the leaves fell, I was also aware that I was knee deep in an intentional, transformative act. (Shamanic / magickal folk think this way. We can’t help it.) I started thinking of it as my year-and-a-day project, having absolutely no idea of who I would be when I reached the end, but trusting the trip would be worthwhile.
Five lines a day. That’s all I asked of myself. Whatever else was going on. Gigs. Illness. Family. Responsibilities. Whatever. Five lines a day, of dancing, resonant, physical verse. Harder than it sounds. Poetry does not come when called. I had to change a lot about myself to entice her to visit each day.
The band folded, through no fault of mine, this past March. Amidst the complex emotions surrounding that ending, I decided that this was my moment. A little over six months into the year-and-a-day project, the way was cleared. I took the leap. I haven’t performed since.
The five line poems had already started to extend tendrils towards the larger poetic meta-narrative I began in Esbat, and was continuing in its sequel. The interesting thing has been that try as I might, with only one exception, I have not been able to write the two books at the same time. Even though they are both poetry.
Nevertheless, I found myself answering questions in the five line book that I hadn’t even formally asked yet in the Esbat sequel. Essentially, if anyone ever cares to reflect on my bibliography some time in the future, it will be a wibbly wobbly trivia quirk that I actually wrote Book Three before Book Two!
When the calendar switched to August, it hit me … there was less than a month to go. As each day has passed, I’ve become more and more aware of the transformation that has taken place, from being a musician who wrote when she had the time to being a poet who knows that music will one day seduce her again, but who is in no rush whatsoever for that to happen.
I could’ve finished the book yesterday. The lines were rolling around, but I didn’t allow them to form. It felt unnatural to restrict them, honestly. But I knew, beyond a doubt, that I had to honour the spell, the year-and-a-day initiation of it all. So this morning, around 830, I opened the document, and at 902am, it was finished. I am not ashamed to say that I cried. A lot.
Things are different now. 366 days. 1,830 lines. How could they not be? Back in June, when I stood in Emily Dickinson’s room, and visited her grave, I made promises, and I’ve fulfilled them. But this is only the beginning. I have the Esbat sequel to finish. And then the two fables after that. And then the big book after that, which I have no idea how to write yet …
But today, on Day 366, I am taking a moment, to be proud and humbled at the same time, to say that I am a poet, and that the book that made me worthy of that title is done.