Monday, April 10, 2017

Suffering From Genre Confusion

They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem, so ok, I admit it. I am suffering from a serious case of genre confusion.

As a child I was certain my bent was towards poetry. I scribbled a few lines, rhymed nun with run (we lived next door to a convent in Chicago), and I called it good. In high school, angst filled-who wasn't-I carried around a leather covered notebook for all the brilliant one liners I might have. During my first go-round in college, 1980's style, I hunkered down with all my pre-nursing classes, but slid in a poetry elective just for fun. Even at age twenty I knew I would bring home more cash as a nurse than as a poet, but still, it was poetry that tripped my trigger.

"Tripped my trigger", who talks like that anymore?

But life, children, a career in nurse management, mortgages, another career in organic farming, grandchildren, all took hold and I did not return to that writing love of mine until age fifty five. Now, eleven short months after graduation from a creative writing program, and a few publication successes, I am absolutely, without a doubt, convinced that I am a poet.

Or am I?

It all seemed so certain. I was writing poetry, I was reading poetry, I was submitting poetry, I was even reciting it while milking my cow. There are poetry books all over my house, in my car, and hidden in the barn. A few of my poems have made it into print, one won a major competition.  But then recently I received an unexpected email and my certainty, wobbled.

A short story I'd written last spring for class, revised and submitted to after hours journal of Chicago back in the summer of 2016,  had been accepted for publication in their upcoming issue, which arrived a few days ago. I frankly had forgotten about this little story. It's fairly common to submit a piece and not get a response for three or four months, but if more than six months goes by, I assume it didn't meet the needs of that particular publication and then mentally, I write it off.  So when after hours contacted me nine months after submission, I had to look at my submission log to jog my memory. When I initially wrote this story, it felt nonsensical, but my professor John Rubins thought it had potential.  He told me to revise it. Which I did, a few times.  How to Tell Your Second Husband He is Your Sixth Husband, took on a life of its own, as stories can do, evolving from a goofy diddy about multiple marriages to a darker comment on bad choices.

When the issue arrived last week I read the story cautiously. It was worse than I had remembered. It was better than I hoped. I was embarrassed to have my husband read it, couldn't wait to show it to my daughter, not at all sure if I will show it to my sons, all of whom are near thirty. But what does it mean? Am I now a flash fiction writer as well as a poet?  Is this a fluke or should I concentrate more on story, plot and characters, instead of  the intensity of metaphor and slant rhymes?  Shall I dig out that monstrosity of a novel I wrote five years ago and try to revive it? Will my poems feel jealous that I am spending more time with short stories? Is it right to lay my after hours copy among all my poetry books, or am I being insensitive to them? Rubbing their proses in it so to speak.

And most importantly, am I a total narcissist if I empty out my PayPal account to buy twenty more copies of after hours ?


  1. I think you focus on expression and getting through, and worry less about genre, maybe you'll even be a pioneer. Years of school training have made most of us into classifiers. It's what academics know to do. A poet needs to forget some of that. Go, girl!

    1. Excellent advice. It is a struggle of mine Mirka, the need to classify, to organize, to label, and it often conflicts with the right brain writer in me. But the older I get the less lists I make and the more spontaneous I become. Another thirty years and I should have this all figured out!

  2. Congratulations on that! Obviously you are one talented and multi-faceted writer!

    1. You're very kind Leigh but just like our homesteading ventures, the more we do...the more we realize what we don't know how to do. Life is such a frustrating process, isn't it?