More Thoughts on Process

A year back I found myself in the living room of the poet John Knoepfle and Peg Knoepfle. We drank wine and ate grapes and cheese and talked about writing and I was charmed with their stories on writing and activism. I met them through D’s kindness and because I had appeared on Peg’s public acccess show on a local cable channel which was quite the unique experience and I also wanted to meet her husband as well as invite him to come and speak to my Lit 110 poetry course.

In that afternoon John tells me about Robert Bly and his teaching in east St Louis. I notice he is very disheveled and unkempt in appearance and a little distracted–his hair is a mess on his head and I find him to be very grumpy and at one point he talks about a critic/writer he wants to shoot–I’ll get back to this in a bit. But that shocks me and D but we stay loose. He also tells another story about a man who broke into his house and Peg keeps him on task with very few words. Peg is a very strong and confident woman. She hugs D at the front door with a monster of a hug and later tells me of her work and her writing group. Peg’s show Works in Progress is a unique show giving local stories and also focusing on local writers.

In her living room I found John to be quite grumpy and yet very open with his career and his work–I found later he was in the middle of a biography which must be why these critic and break-in stories are on his mind. Anyway, he shares only a hair of his process or his work in the form of a poem on the wall of the kitchen that D says is her favorite poem of John’s. In fact, he goes so far as to openly say ‘I don’t want to read anybody’s writing.’

In the living room I think of Frank Waters and how I wished I could have sat in his living room and I also think of the Abuelitos and their living room and their kitchen and I feel sad and awkward in the social moment. I find myself thinking of this quite often but I pretty much keep it all down. I also think about how I have no dialogue left with the Abuelitos but I still find the voice to ask John to come to my class–plan on what we might discuss and he lends me a copy of his books and a locally produced video about him and his work.

Now, the critic he mentions. I was shocked that he talked about killing a guy with such passion but he was passionate and I assume he was exaggerating. But later he mentions another writer/critic that he loathes and that he hates. He brings up this man who I can’t remember the name of to save my life. Anyway he hates this writer and this mindset. He says, ‘the guy writes well but can never finish any thing. He can’t finish any manuscripts he begins.’

I think of this today because I admire John and Peg and I associate them with my own lost Abuelitos. I see them as the adult figures I don’t have around me right now. Figures who make thoughtful decisions–adults who care for writing and reading and people who enjoy sitting in living rooms and drinking wine and talking about writing anf writing groups. These are people I feel are rare lately. Especially at my school where even the professors/teachers don’t seem to care about writing. Sure they teach writing but don’t seem to keen on actually writing and sharing that writing. The professors study fiction and critique fiction but they call it literature arts.

So in this moment with John and Peg I feel awkward because I want to be one of these people that writes and discusses writing–but more importantly I want to be one of John’s writers who finish and complete. I don’t want to be a writer who begins interesting sounding drafts and has interesting sounding ideas for projects and books and yet never has the drive or energy or talent to somehow get those manuscripts completed.

And as this clip from American Movie I feel that I have it in me to succeed–meaning I have it in me to create and complete rather than to just drink and dream.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

One thought on “More Thoughts on Process”

  1. How odd and yet how right that I read this post after I wrote my previous comment. It is so appropriate that it starts with Mark driving and the car and the journey and the destination. All parts are necessary, though. Sometimes we arrive at the place we didn't know we wanted to arrive at and sometimes we plan out the trip, but we arrive there all the same.

    poem for everyone

    love is like a bowl
    so when you break it
    glue it together
    if it won't hold water
    fill it with apples

    John Knoepfle

    And this one, too–

    pray for everyone
    so that we can redeem
    all the bleak, bright hours
    when we did not
    pray for ourselves

    John Knoepfle

    Because even as one who doesn't believe in the traditional version of religion, I am still one who has never given up prayer. It sits on the tip of my tongue daily, like St. Chris on a dashboard.


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