New American Poets

New American Poets: Carmen Giménez Smith

Carmen Giménez Smith author photo

Pillow Talkc

I am an odalisque in pieces.
Frisson should happen every single time,

but doesn't. Instead it stammers
like a bike light.

You promise postcards
from the Atlantic Mirror,

then leave scarabs under
your thumbprint.

My gypsy window:
your fissure.

Listen, I got here
the same way you did,

taking heart in a stranger
who plucked music from my pudendum,

so make something true
before you go. Or don't.

I'll find it.
My kind always does.

From Odalisque in Pieces (Arizona University Press, 2009). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.

I've wondered for a long while about my motivation for writing – Why do I write? – and still, after all these years, I have not come up with an answer that satisfies me. Do I write because I crave attention? Because I desire affirmation that I'm smart? That I'm hip? That I'm worthy intellectually of publication in this or that press or journal by this or that editor or intern? God, I hope that's not it. Surely I possess enough self-esteem to not have to spend countless thousands of hours tinkering with words in order to be perceived as likeable by a handful of strangers. Do I write because I believe I have something important to communicate to others? Am I really so arrogant to believe that I have something valuable to impart to the world? Something so profound that I would expect someone to place aside all the demands of her life, to seek out and spend the time to read my poems? Because it might impact her life in some critical way? No, I know myself well enough to say that I am not quite so arrogant. Do I write because I desire to become part of a community, a continuum of writers? Of poets? Of mostly dead poets? Of mostly dead white male poets? But I am alive! I am a living female poet! I am a living brown female poet! Do I write for the money? For the fame? Again, brown female poet: ixnay on the amefay. For posterity? I'm a diehard atheist. When you're dead you're dead, so why would it matter? Do I write for my children, in order to provide them with a record of who I was? My poetry is so personal, so bound up with the weird idiosyncrasies of my thought.… This is not the picture of me I wish for them to keep.

I think the best answer I've come up with is this: writing is something I enjoy doing because I feel that with each successive poem I write I am getting know myself a little bit better. This is still not entirely satisfying, because it doesn't speak to the imperative of poetry as such: there are many things I do in my life that allow me to gain greater self-knowledge. With writing, though, I often find myself working on problems of selfhood and identity that I didn't even know were problematic for me until long after I'd returned to the work and finally recognized their relation to my life. It is this process of blindly trusting in the importance of the relevance of the work to my consciousness that I find most exciting in composing a poem. The work has a will of its own that only later reveals itself to me. I write not so much to communicate with others, but to communicate with myself.

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