Tuesday Review: Landscape of The Wait by Jami Macarty

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I have not blogged in a long while, but I am getting back to it. I am going to start a new Tuesday Review series, where I review books of poems that I come across. I couldn’t think of a better way to launch the series than to start with poet Jami Macarty’s new chapbook book of poems Landscape of The Wait, published this year by Finishing Line Press.

With hauntingly beautiful images, Macarty maps a territory no parent wants to step foot in, let alone chart. She not only maps it, she paints it with painstaking precision and beauty, such that we can’t help but follow her into a space we would prefer never to go. In the collection, the poems traverse the heartbreaking landscape that a parent inhabits as she sits vigil over her adult child who lies in coma following a car accident.

The title poem, “Landscape of The Wait” lays it out there in lines that look and feel in some way like the lines of a map, the roads that start and end with words and brief thoughts that must, in those moments when it’s hard to know when or if to grieve or when or if to celebrate any small victory, feel disconnected.

wait

                           monitor                        when or ever

our want

                                                                  his eyes to open

doubt large now

                             breath or gravel

each instinct’s 

                            trance

 

Still, it’s the poem “Fracture” that opens the door, points the way in, both literally as the opening poem in the collection and figuratively as a map of how to cross from what was into the “wait.”

where I pull over                            to listen to

                                                       the desolate

cellular voice

 

a hummingbird                               needles weeds

invading                                          the clear felling

 

 

where pell-mell insterstate             his body

                                                       through the car window

happens happens happens      

Each moment in that moment of sudden awareness is fractured and we begin to see as Macarty does that the moments will never come together in the same way again. It’s not simply they way she carefully unfurls the images, however, it’s the way she uses the page that gives us the full impact of those vast extended moments.

son                                                          a shadowed Now

where days of no change                  extend beyond

days                                                       of change

Even in those poems where the images come at you with no break, there is a feel of floating, being suspended, in a space where there is no way to know where the roads end or begin or if they are even grounded in anyway. The poem “At the Time of Accident” shows this in a visceral way as we are given the son’s image of the accident as the poet imagines it in a montage of images that give us a sense of slow-motion suspension. We being to clearly feel the surreal nature of the wait.

airborne, he thought. hang-

ing on time’s lost line

suffer suspension,

he thought. near-sighted

horizon. no or-

dinary flying

In the end, there is no destination that this map can take the reader that is outside the wait. It doesn’t end. It suspends us in the landscape of waiting.  All there is is the wait, the continued space that Macarty calls to with heartbreaking longing in the poem “If Only What If.”

If only you took the back way

what if, approaching the toll booth, you pull over to search for change

if only your radio operative

what if the iPod had yet to be invented

if only the semi driver called in sick

what if he stopped for gas

~

If only no caveats with extended footnotes

if only attentive to randomness, exception

if no matter the unlocking, day can become road scarring

if no one deserves this, certainly not you

Macarty teaches contemporary poetry and creative writing at Simon Fraser University. She also advises and edits the online poetry journal The Maynard. Her chapbook collection Landscape of The Wait can be purchased at Finishing Line Press, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

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Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell: Making a Case for Shelving the Fallback Plan

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Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. –Paulo Coelho

This thing, this calling, chose me. That’s how it feels, anyway. I have tried other things, other somewhat more lucrative things, other somewhat less risky things, but none have really given me more stability, per se. None have been lucrative enough or stable enough (or even stimulating enough) for me to say, “Hey, it’s been so worth it to spend my entire life working on a fallback plan,” but that’s what I have done.

I went to college on a fallback plan. I went to college again on a fallback plan. I finally went to college to focus on that thing, but have used the degree more to build the fallback plan than the actual thing. I even went to college one more time, trying yet again at a fallback plan. The point is, I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a good fallback plan. In fact, I have spent the better part of the last 26 years trying to find a fallback plan instead of giving that thing the time it deserved, the time it wanted, because in that 26 years, when fallback plan after fallback plan fell apart, that thing was always there. That thing was building and growing and building and growing, because it chose me. It nags and won’t let go, and yet I am happy that it does so. While fallback plan after fallback plan has fallen apart, I have found minutes, scraped together minutes to give to that thing because I had to, because I wanted to so much that I had to. In those scraps of minutes, seeds were planted and gardens have grown. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when no matter how much I think that thing chose me, I doubt it and feel like an imposter. Still, that thing nags at me and won’t let me go.

Sometimes, I wish when it first began to nag me that someone would have said, this may be your thing. Listen to it, but I was told it’s best to have a fallback plan. I am a mom now. My kids have their things, and their things, like my thing, are not things that people readily tell them they should bet their futures on. In fact, I remember sitting in one my daughter’s IEP meetings where her teachers and counselors encouraged her thing, but also told her she should have a fallback plan and she should spend more time thinking about that fallback plan. I get what they meant, but I still should have said no. I didn’t say no. Back then, I was in the midst of trying yet another fallback plan that I didn’t know was destined to fail. That’s not to say I don’t say no now. I know better, I guess. I hear my daughter daily through the vent, in her room playing ukulele, singing, and composing original songs. I have seen my son spend hours reading waves, getting back on his surfboard after a fall, trying again and again because it is his thing. Maybe they will find something else. Maybe the thing will be the thing in some way. I don’t know. It’s really not my business to tell them they need to do it any other way. That I do know for sure.

I recently watched Will Ferrell’s 2017 USC commencement ceremony speech. Say what you will about Will Ferrell (I personally find him funny as hell), through his humor he delivered a profound message, at least that’s the way I heard it. He spoke of darts and in the face of his risky, frightening, “I may never make it” calling he kept throwing darts at the target hoping that one or two might stick. I get that. Only, unlike Will Ferrell, I threw them secretly or stole moments to throw them and really only gave myself the chance to throw relatively few darts. Still, some have stuck, like the one I threw at Finishing Line Press in May 2016, and now I am weeks away from the publication of my first book of poems. I am not going to imagine where I would be now if I just spent the time throwing darts instead of trying and failing to find a good fallback plan. I am just going to start throwing fists full of darts now.

Ultimately, though, we spend a lot of time telling dreamers they need a fallback plan, and they need to spend more time figuring that out that plan than doing that thing. We usually give reasons like “It’s hard to make it doing that” or “Not everyone can be Will Ferrell.” Yes, it’s hard to make it doing a lot of things. I know. Yes, not everyone can be Will Ferrell, but then Will Ferrell was once just an unknown guy who kept throwing dart after dart.

On making the commitment

My husband asked me if I was coming back to bed this morning after I had gotten up ungodly early to take my daughter to work. I told him no, not because I am mad or anything like that, but because I was wide awake, for one, and because I am finally making a commitment to my writing. I told him I went to school for writing, so I want to write and it is about time I make the commitment. So, I spent the morning committing to the act of writing and it felt good.

I guess I had to lay it out for him, because I tend to be the one to put everything and everyone else before my craft. Even with an MFA in writing I have never felt good enough. I felt more the perpetual fangirl than a peer to the writers I admire. There are a couple of women in my life whose encouragement I am finally taking to heart, one who I know and another who I do not know personally, but her words are sinking in.  Delia De Santis told me a long time ago that I should believe in my poems. She published three of them in the collection Sweet Lemons 2: International Writings With a Sicilian Accent, an anthology she coedited with Venera Fazio. I was definitely fangirling because my poems were printed alongside the work of so many writers I admire. She told me I deserved to be there. Admittedly, I took it with a grain of salt–like I always do. It’s a fluke, I told myself. Recently, I read Diane di Prima’s latest book of poems. I know I’ve already blogged about finding it and reading it, but what I came away from reading that book with is the way she described how unapologetically she committed herself to her poetry writing and how pretty early on she unabashedly saw herself as a peer to fellow writers of the time. These bits of truth sit as bookends to the many other signs and bits that I have collected along the way from writers like Haruki Murakami, who also just simply committed himself to the craft, and Grace Paley, who when asked at a lecture she gave at Howard Community College in 1988 why she writes the stories she does simply said that there were very few stories of women when she began writing and she felt that those were stories that needed to be told and heard.

It has been easy to believe that my stories have no merit. It is easy to believe that because they don’t pull in six figures or any figures they are somehow less important than other things I do. I can’t blame anyone for making me believe that. No one made me believe that but myself. I chose to see myself as a fan girl rather than a peer for a long time.

Now, I am choosing to commit. I am choosing to see myself as a peer. I am choosing the process and my work and as di Prima noted in her book, the rest will have to work itself out.