Being a Writer in the Age of Trump


Like many of my peers, I felt the world shatter on November 8, 2016. I spent that night watching ABC’s live election map with a group of my friends; we all expected that the results would offer us hope and safety. As we were chatting eagerly, one of those lovely people, Veronica, recorded herself with her laptop’s camera.

“I’m going to show this to my kids,” she said. “I want them to know what it was like when the first woman president was elected.”

Another one of my friends––Matt, a human calculator––counted up the number of states that were poised to turn blue. According to his estimations, Hillary Clinton’s victory should have been a shoe-in.

But then Matt was wrong. And then Veronica closed her laptop. The faith we had had in our fellow citizens drained out of our bodies. Nearly half of the country had cast ballots for a man who threatened the existences of seven of the nine people in the room. All of a sudden, seemed that our lives were not valued by the majority of the people around us.

There’s no need for me to go into the societal/political/global fallout of the election that ripped apart all standards of kindness and human decency. We’re all aware of it. This is a post about the personal implications of living in a world that doesn’t care if you are safe. For multiple affected groups––women, people of color, Muslim and Jewish Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities, among others––the red map that glowered from the television forced us to question our identities and our places in the world. And as a writer, that has been an steep and treacherous process.

Not longer after that fateful night, I penned one shoddy attempt at a poem about the November devastation, but otherwise I haven’t had much success in describing my distress. My spirit is empty. All I have left is my anger and a sense that I have been profoundly betrayed. What’s the point of being a poet if no one would care if I died? Why do my characters matter when the vice president of the United States condones child abuse? Why should I devote my soul to metaphors and assonance when I ought to be yelling and marching and fighting for my life?

Certainly, art can be a pathway to social action. A novel can spark a war for freedom. Carefully crafted speeches can move crowds. Poems can stir solidarity between marginalized people, creating unbreakable forces of resistance. But I hardly have the audience for that sort of impact, and it seems more imperative than ever to make my every action direct. The best use of my knack for writing would be in the composition of a letter to my senators. There’s no time to pique my muses with love or flower petals or quiet moments when I need to protect my friends.

I’m too angry to dwell on beauty. I can’t even think about art for art’s sake. Self-improvement is no longer about creating ever-better verse, but rather about eliminating any tendency in myself that might have helped put a monster into the country’s highest office. All I can do is shout and cry and focus on the tangible world, where tangible people are facing tangible threats, and tangible police officers are murdering tangible unarmed black civilians, and tangible hate groups are burning tangible crosses, and tangible billionaire celebrities are ogling tangible teenage girls, knowing they can get away with tangible rape and tangible assault because no one will believe the very, very tangible victims.

I can’t be bothered to emulate Billy Collins anymore because I’m too busy emulating the civil rights leaders of decades past who thought they were fighting the final fight. And I’m too busy realizing that we are still generations away from the final fight.

I’m too busy justifying my anger to write poems about my anger. I’m too busy restating the fact that my sadness and my disgust have merit to develop symbols for my feelings. If I seem distracted, if my recent stanzas seem subpar, know that it’s because I don’t go a day without fearing for my future––or wondering if there is even a future to fear for.

The just-world hypothesis has been supplanted by reality, and yet scholarly articles are telling me to empathize with people who wouldn’t bat an eye at my death. This is no environment for idealists; poetic fancies have no place in a world driven by hatred and bigotry. Everything I know about writing, every element of my writer’s identity, is irrelevant to the emotions that unite us, and that destroy us.

In 2017, creating art feels useless.

I don’t want to be a source of gentle diversion. I want to set people’s hearts on fire, send them to the streets, create action from dissatisfaction, let people know that they did something cruel, convince people to change their minds so that they truly understand “never again,” and help eradicate the forces that have put passions on hold.

To be realistic, I doubt that I can do any of that with lyrical quips or witty anecdotes. Over the course of the past eight months, my life’s purpose has shifted.

I can’t spend all day with notebooks and dreams anymore. My writer’s soul doesn’t matter when so many human bodies are at risk.

Ciao for now,
Mikki

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Why I Won’t Be Posting Any More Poems


Hello, everyone!

The title of this post makes it sound like I’m about to reveal something sad, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I won’t be posting any more poems on mikkiaaron because I am hoping to create a new chapter in my life as a writer. That is to say, I hope to become published.

“Wait a second,” I can hear you blurting, “Isn’t it true that posting a poem on your blog is a form of publishing it?”

Well, sure. But weblogs doesn’t mean anything to the literary community at large unless you’re really successful––and, well, let’s be honest. I don’t have a massive follower base on WordPress, and my posts rarely receive more than ten likes. This site is only going to take my writing so far.

“That’s fair,” you’re saying now, “But why do you have to deny us your gratis Mikki magic in the name of the New Yorker?”

It’s against the rules of most major––or even respectable––poetry journals to submit poems that have been published before. And yes, that includes poems that have previously appeared on personal blogs.

“Oh,” you’re sneering, “I see how it is. You’re giving up on your underdog dreams in order to be validated by the Old Boy’s Club. What a sellout.”

This blog has actually been really great for me, and I fully recognize that. It’s helped me grow as a writer by providing me with motivation, feedback, and a space for self-expression. I’ve been able to publish my own work without worrying about being funneled, which gave me the opportunity to be experimental and uninhibited. I’ve found my voice: if you scroll through the mikkiaaron archives, you can watch the evolution in real time. My tiny corner of the Web has given me the chance to uncover myself to the world, and from there I figured out the type of writer I want to be.

Unfortunately, as I said before, I can only do so much growing with a limited readership. I need an expanded audience that will include critics as well as supporters (which is not to say I don’t value those who have been supportive––see above paragraph).

Although you did get one thing right. It’s partly for the validation.

You sigh. “I’ll sure miss you. I like your blog.”

That’s so sweet, but I’m not going anywhere! I haven’t totally decided what to do with mikkiaaron now that I can’t upload verse, but I promise it’ll be good. The most likely option is that I’m going to write about writing, instead of posting the actual fruit of my labors.

“But your poems are so good, and I want to keep reading them.”

Worry not! That’s what I want, too. It’s just that you might encounter them in a different medium.

“No, I mean, I want to keep reading them here, for free.”

Surprise! Poets actually need money. Money is necessary for food, food is necessary for human life, and human life is necessary for poetry.

“You’re right. That was kind of inconsiderate of me.” All of a sudden, you get excited. “Oh, wait! Does that mean I’m going to see your name on a book one day?”

Hm.

I wouldn’t count on it.

“Why not?”

Excellent question.

Ciao for now,
Mikki

 

Poem Every Day in July 5: A Poem about Summer Afternoons


my photo

Summer leaves me too sleepy
to complete a poem.
The oxygen is unenriched,
swirling without syllables.
All I want is to feel the sweep
of the fan as I nap.

It dawns on me that bedsheets
will offer little consolation.
The A/C’s gentle electric rattle
sings a lullaby via the vents.
In the afternoon,
inertia quietly maintains
the wordlessness on my page.

My mechanical pencil,
below the mattress, rolling,
is surely dreaming, too.
The curtains cave and expand,
as if they were blowing
on a dandelion.

In West Virginia, they are (re)moving mountains.: A Poem


They say there is lucrative ore
tucked away in the valleys,
that by stripping the land to its sinews they can uncover prosperity
for the dust-lunged people of the peaks. “Don’t worry,” they say,
“about slurry—coffee is just as bitter and black; besides, carbon is the base of all life.
Coal is just a part of our ordained whole, God’s will waiting to be uncovered like a sleeping satin mistress
whose silent, seductive moans speak of the black luxury beneath her trembling surface.”

Donning fluorescent orange, they latch onto Appalachia
the way one ant snaps its mandibles around another.
They say, “It’s no problem of mine
that your children
are dying. Projectiles may shatter roof tiles,
but we are smashing glass ceilings.
We blast hilltops in the name
of progress—in your name,
that is, for the sake of decimating
your worries, flattening
your fears, eliminating
the strife that let us sneak
past your fences
to begin with,
our humble
gift to you.”
And the people
drink the ore,
guzzling each
acidic drop,
standing
in praise
until they
them-
selves

drop,
mirroring
the
flatline
of
their
landscape:
pristine,
unfeel-
ing,
breath-
less,
lis-
tl-
ess,
qui-
et,
pa-
llid,

l-
os-
t.

Doris Ulman’s Photograph of Clarence White: A Poem


The man was an artist, but that
we’ll ignore for now: the work in his hands

must be blurry, fading into the grey
that makes a depthless grave of the rest of his room.

Instead, his sleeve (the prominent crease,
that jagged mistake, unironed and unchecked

with all the tectonic error of a mountain range)
will be half-bright, half-black, its hyper-contrast on display

in fully-focused, eloquent grain.
We see his dishevelment disarm him.

It is this schism on his shirt, the light and dark
ripped apart, that gains the lens’ attention; neglected

are his talents, the bristles of his moustache
and the cautious fingers that guide brushes

along artful surfaces. The wrinkles of his quiet untidiness
trump anything his moment accomplishes.

The man in the photograph cannot be greater
than his nearest flaw.

Sitting Next to You in the Backseat of the Rental Minivan: A Poem


We watched the pink eyelid of nighttime
close to the West. I did my best
to squeeze my knees together, but you
couldn’t keep your legs to yourself:
With all of your weight perched on your opposite elbow,
you twisted your hips towards me––
at the precipice of this sunset
our thighs touched in the backseat.

I can remember your pantyhose,
the bit of clear nail polish
you used to heal the run at the base of your skirt,
a little above where we were connected
full of silence and heat.
The warmth we shared
would have been stifling at a larger scale,
but in this moment it was acceptable, even
desirable, albeit through layers
of itchy polyester and the ever-present stare
sideways, out to the river, out
to the lights reflected on the water,
flickering and stirring with the waves.

When you shifted, a chill swept into the chasm
between the two of us,
and it made me think of birds:
in the moments before a storm, air pressure
drops, and all of Aves knows
to be afraid. For them,
the frozen gusts coming from above are an alarm,
swift and cold and sure. For me, in that instant,
the backseat was far from claustrophobic:
an expanse peeled open, dark
and breathless, endless and alone.
The white and yellow highway lines
rolled out forever, spitting towards
an impossibly distant horizon.
That night, it seems, we never stopped driving

and you were far away.
The only thing I knew then was absence,
your absence, a threat
that was entirely hollow, but not without energy,
crackling like lightning in the distance,
simultaneously empty and torrential, dark matter
over robin’s eggs. The run in your pantyhose
split, growing butterfly eyelashes
black and stringy, with an observant pupil
as disquiet as the highway beneath tires.
The city lights stopped moving
on the water. I couldn’t see you.

Groundhog and Shadow: A Poem


landscape-1454350390-groundhog

My doting mother
is the ground.
Her soil womb
does not make sound.
I nestle into
blackish dirt;
inside of her
I cannot hurt.
But once each year
the men must know
if I will see
my own shadow.
They tear my body
out of her.
Relentless sunbeams
burn my fur
as I am laid
upon the earth,
the child of
inflicted birth.
Then suddenly
appears a ghost,
the bluish spectre
I fear most:

its formless bounding
in the grass
(its undulating,
godless mass)
will churn like thunder…
but it’s me.
Beneath my feet,
the ghoul I see
is only light
which I have stopped,
or God’s intentions
I have chopped
before they landed
on the lawn.
I, entropy
have made a yawn
in greater plans
than I should touch.
The beast below
will prove too much
for my faint heart—
I whip around.
The kindness of
the silent ground

is all I know.
It’s all I want.
My mother shelters
me from haunt.
The dark down here
denies my strife,
yet men uproot
my silent life.
Their inquiries
of coming spring
will force me towards
a violent thing
I know no creature
should confront.
I hate the hubris
In their hunt.
I close my eyes,
knowing again
this time next year
I’ll meet the men.
I pray to end
solemnity,
so maybe next year
men will see.