- Writers Retreat
- Writers in School
- OUR SUPPORTERS
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from poet Maureen Seaton.
Maureen Seaton has authored fifteen poetry collections, both solo and collaborative. Her work has received numerous awards, including the Lambda Literary Award, the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize, the Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Award, an NEA, and the Pushcart. Her memoir, Sex Talks to Girls (University of Wisconsin Press, Living Out Series), also garnered a “Lammy.” She writes about poets and the good damage they do at Almost Dorothy’s “Glit Lit,” You can also find her here: www.maureens
Early this morning Janie (Sweet Jane, our dog) and I were startled into investigating loud popping sounds on the roof—Janie from her security blanket on the floor, I from my security blanket on my lap (Mac). At first I thought it was someone throwing stones from the roof next door, which made no sense. Then I thought it might be hail (early monsoon season), and finally I realized it was just plain old rain, huge self-conscious high desert drops, and I laughed, and Janie laughed, and we went back to what we were doing, happy about the sleeping and the writing and the rain.
Some summers I accomplish work I like and some summers I don’t, but I always appreciate the time I’ve been given to try. When I’m at my job the rest of the year there’s a buzz in my head that keeps me from the depth I like to reach—the place where I experience the color of words, the shade and the sun of them. Everything’s a little too noisy for my solo work from around mid-October to mid-May, so that’s when I collaborate, which is a whole other kind of joy. But right now I’m in New Mexico, and I can actually hear where a poem begins.
A lot of people get mixed up between New Mexico and Arizona. When I go back to Florida, several co-workers will ask me if I enjoyed my summer in Arizona, even though I’ve been coming to New Mexico for over ten years. My partner, who’s holding down the fort at sea level while I’m road-running between family in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, asked me on the phone today if New Mexico has scorpions. She wants to fret about me even more than she already does, so I checked online, which took a couple of hours at least, allowing for sidetracks, and the answer is yes. “But don’t worry,” I told her, since I’m now such an expert, “Arizona has a lot more scorpions than New Mexico.”
I woke up at seven thinking: “Why do poets have poetry wars?” This question stems directly from my naïve streak, something I’ve always had that doesn’t seem to scab over with age or experience. I talked about it with my friend Kenneth, a poet living in New Mexico, where poets seem to war like everywhere else, and he says he stays clear of the fray. Maybe poets swim in such a small pond we just keep bumping into one another, not unlike non-poets. Today at a meeting I heard someone say that she looked around at her hollyhocks and her studio with its open door and leaning canvases, and thought: It’s enough just to be. This appeals to me, obviously, naïve as I am. I went home and reworked a poem, something on the theme of sex for Court Green. I had mixed feelings when it turned into a poem about masturbation in the first stanza, but I decided to go with it. It’s an intentionally dismantled sestina, with parentheticals for a choppy effect and a little velocity. I don’t usually plan how I’m going to execute a poem, but then again, I rarely write on a specific theme, much less sex, a topic conveniently banal and profane, depending on the angle. This is one of those poems I will never read to my kids, even though they’re adults. I’m not even sure I’ll show it to my partner. Or send it to Court Green. I do like the final couplet that compares masturbation to the actual writing of the poem.
Yesterday, while I was considering sex and poetry wars, I missed the entire transit of Venus, which won’t happen again until 2117 when, I assume, most of us will be dead. For all intents and purposes, I missed the recent eclipse too. While my fellow lesbians danced at the volcanoes like eclipse sylphs and fauns, or headed to Balloon Fiesta Park with their kids or to the University of New Mexico for educational viewing (with special glasses), I was home writing a piece about poets and clouds, my head stuck in one, as it often is. I’m not saying I miss out on everything because I’m working all the time, but I do get sallow writer’s syndrome on occasion. And then I feel guilty about it. Like now. And to make my Venus disappointment worse, it turns out transits like this might someday help us find other habitable planets called exoplanets. I certainly would like to be in on that!
I spent hours this morning using up all the colors in my daughter’s printer. Now I have to go to Staples for blue, red, and yellow before Jen needs her printer back. I’d decided to print out the first two hundred pages of my collaboration with my friend Sam to make it a little easier on the eyes to revise. Uh oh. Jen just surprised me and came home from work for lunch. Janie’s beside herself with glee. Me too, except Jen just asked if the printer is available. When she was little she used to cry sometimes when I sat too long at the typewriter. I think she hated that typewriter. I bet she’s glad they don’t make them anymore. I’ll ask her. She says she’s not. And she doesn’t remember crying when I typed, either.
The book I’m working on with Sam is cross-genred, multimedia, and has a couple of robots in it, not like, but also not unlike, the video game “Portal,” which I suck at. But I do love robots.
I check the air quality index (AQI), and even though we can strongly smell the smoke from the Gila Forest wildfire today, it says “Moderate.” Air’s a funny thing. It’s like there’s no getting away from it. It’s scary to me that smoke particles travel hundreds of miles from the Gila to our little patio. By the way, Silver City, New Mexico, is a unique town on the periphery of the burning wilderness. I mention it because after my friend Sarah and I hiked in the Gila National Forest a few years ago (the drought was bad that summer too), we found a great little queer enclave in Silver City, something we didn’t expect. Here’s how you get there from Albuquerque:
Sometimes the wind is so fierce here in ABQ, like right now, that I get a little Florida hurricane PTSD and recall when I was scrunched in my shower during Wilma back in 2005, and my cat Malcolm wouldn’t stay put on my lap and ran cavalierly into the bedroom just as I thought the windows were coming in. Today I spent the entire smoky day inside, as instructed by the wildfire authorities, working on a poem called “Transit of Venus.” I also did some research on the zuihitsu, an ancient Japanese writing practice, and then I sent out a couple of collabs to online journals. I generally felt very spoiled and happy to not have to be doing anything school-related or responsible. Still, the wildfires are destroying trees, houses, and people, we’re all breathing bad air—and I’m writing a poem.
I met my friend Valerie, the former poet laureate of Santa Fe, for lunch today. She thought the idea of writing about or from the banal could be liberating. I know what she means. A Lit colleague of mine got irritated with me last semester for using the word “amazing” too often to describe my students. He said: “You’re a poet, Maureen, can’t you do any better than that?” Then someone else asked me recently if I watch TV, expecting a loud aesthetic no. “Reruns almost every night,” I said. “My current favorite is The Big Bang Theory. And if that doesn’t turn my mind down to simmer, I curl up in bed with Northern Exposure.” What else? I’ve read all the Twilight books and I’ve seen all the movies. Today I bought cheap plastic Adirondack chairs, 3 of them in a color called Kiwi. My favorite object in the room where I’m writing this is a monkey lamp I bought at Home Depot for $12. I found the desk it sits on at a second hand store and I left the faded flower decals just for the hell of it. I swear a lot, and I like to swear. I don’t understand why some people wince when I say the word fuck. And my favorite poem today is an excerpt from a song by Queen and Bowie:
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love give love
Last summer we almost left New Mexico because the fires were threatening the plutonium at the Los Alamos Labs. Today Jen and I sat under a tree in the park with Janie and the air smelled okay. We live a few miles from the air force base, their planes fly over daily, and Jen said, “Why do they look the same as they did in WWII?” Poor New Mexico, I sometimes think. So plundered—in so many ways, for so long. Puts things in perspective.
Saturday (Santa Fe)
Smell that Spanish Broom, sweet all over New Mexico like someone’s been sweeping the desert with sugar. My daughter Emily and her husband Matthew are away overnight and I’m ghost-sitting for them. Santa Fe makes my heart pound with altitude so I have to go a little easy for a while, not run up any mountains until I’m acclimated. They live close to the Plaza, with its 4-star restaurants and stores with stuff tourists travel here for, like turquoise and silver. I love the plaza because it has that rarefied feeling that comes from the mountains, Native and Mexican traditions, and all the diverse artists and healers who live here. Today I stopped on my way up from Albuquerque at Counter Culture off Cerrillos and got a tuna sandwich and an iced hibiscus tea to go. Then I came here to Palace Avenue to write and ghost-sit. Since I live for over half the year at sea level, this always feels like a stretch for me at 7199 feet. Santa Fe’s real name is La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís, The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi, which I just found online. I also found some of my old raw material in a file I’d explored for a poem a couple of years back, and I’m going at it to see what else might shape itself. The wind is enjoying the chimes Emily’s hung near the front door. I’m not sure how the ghosts feel about the noise, but I love it. Em told me not to let the ghosts boss me around, but so far they haven’t said boo. (Sorry.)
I’m still a tad perplexed about the difference between the banal and the profane, worried that my interpretations are not true enough or different enough from each other. They seem so artistically linked in some way, and I like that. I woke late this morning in Santa Fe, having slept on the couch so I could keep my eye on the ghost population from all angles, ate an omelet, looked out the window at the Sangre de Cristos. When Emily and Matthew arrived home, Em and I walked to the Plaza and ended up in the Guadalupe Fun Rubber Stamp Store, where I almost bought a rubber stamp of Our Lady of Guadalupe herself. I suppose rubber stamps are banal, although I’m sure the proprietor of Guadalupe Fun Rubber Stamps, home of StampaFe Art Stamps, would not think so. Plus, some of the stamps appear seriously queer-related.
On the walk down to the Plaza my daughter and I passed a church on Palace with some really loud bells going on. We’d been talking about the obvious limitations of a supreme being. “My sense,” I said, “is that ‘God’ is nowhere near as omni-everything as we would expect or like him to be.” (Thus, I’ve decapitalized him.) (No offense meant.) Suddenly, out of the church with the crazy bells stepped four adults in long white liturgical garb holding poles (I used to know the names of all those accoutrements), and the bells were clanging and something important was about to happen and there we were talking about how futile it is to harass God.
Some people find the popular image of Our Lady of Guadalupe a little on the banal side at this point in history. Perhaps we need to reinvent things as we evolve. Alma Lopez, for instance, digitally reinvented Guadalupe in a bikini of roses.
The image is worth revisiting, especially considering all the hatred it aroused worldwide for over a decade now. And to think it’s only a little over a foot square in actual size. Perhaps the banal, when coupled with the profane, sparks the fucking amazing possibilities of controversy, no matter how small. I certainly like to think so.