Literary Autobiography

As a five year old I wanted to be a brain surgeon.  I wrote, “Please, a brain surgeon now!” in a book I got for my birthday called “All About Me!” I think it was because my Great Aunt Ellen Mary Morse was reputed to be the first woman doctor in Detroit, and I must have wanted to make something of myself.  In high school I got positive feedback on my writing from teachers and as I moved into the phase of navel staring typical for many teens; that phase when you begin to recognize yourself as a person apart; as a thing with feelings and a keen awareness of mortality, I started to seclude myself in my room and write all the time.

I was an English major in college and went to grad school to get an MFA in poetry, but along the way I veered into a Ph.D. program; maybe because I was shy of myself among other poets; maybe because I was married to a jazz musician and I was aware one of us would have to put food on the table.  But teaching; being a professor—which I did for twenty years–was something I was only a little good at.  I had children in my forties and eventually resigned my post as a professor to raise my kids and live near home.  By serendipity, I became a business owner.  I wrote a novel during this time (never published; more memoir than novel) and continuously wrote poems without a clear sense of whether I had talent. 

It is only in the last year—with my children grown and my business winding down—that I have returned to poetry with a feeling of incredible urgency.  When I wake in the morning, I can’t wait to get to the computer.  At night, I don’t want to go to sleep, even if it’s one in the morning, because I am so completely absorbed and I don’t want to lose valuable writing time.  I am looking forward to full retirement when nothing is on my schedule or mind except poetry.

Poets I love?  Sylvia Plath.  She and I grew up in the same town, Wellesley, Mass, and had the same English teacher, Wilbury Crockett.  Jane Kenyon; Audre Lorde; Emily Dickinson; Mary Oliver; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Milton, Shelley, Keats, Wallace Stevens are a few of the poets that knock me off my feet. A poem by Eileen Myles in the New Yorker this week stopped me in my tracks. Basically I’m trying to get all the poems out of my “teeming” brain before I die. My whole effort; the intensity of it going forward is well summed up in the first two lines of Keats’ sonnet: “When I have fears that I may cease to be/ before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.”