or Say "Yes" Then Figure It Out Later
I never set out to write a biography.
I am just a simple, former Reserve Component Solider interested in poetry.
In pursuit of that interest, I was one year into my low-residency MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2018, fully immersed in (almost!) nothing but poetry (I had a lot of catching up to do, having never really studied it in depth).
At that point in my program, I was suppose to have a clear picture of what I wanted to write my thesis about. Instead, I had no idea.
I could only tell my potential advisers when I met with them that I had two things that were interesting me.
Literary lineage, perhaps?
The first was this concept of literary lineage, how one writer learns from another, directly and indirectly, and how we might be able to quantify this elusive influence. I had come up with a concept sketch to try and better explain my elusive idea.
After various discussions with potential advisers, we all came away with the decision that this was way too large an undertaking for any fledgling writer (well, this one at least). I shelved this into my back-of-the-mind folder called, "Another Project for Another Day."
World War II poets, maybe?
The other thing that really intrigued me were the number of people who had served in WW2 and then became successful poets. They weren't just "war" poets, though certainly many of them addressed their wartime experience. They became poets--"Capital P" poets, if there is such a thing--with just a portion of their writing related to their time in uniform. And I wanted to learn more about that.
The poet Rick Jackson was ultimately chosen to be my adviser that upcoming semester. When we had our first chat and I mentioned these disparate interests, he immediately suggested I look into a poet I'd never heard of: William Meredith.
I wasn't excited about the idea. But I wasn't opposed to it, either. I left the meeting thinking I still had a lot of deciding to do.
Independent used bookstore changes everything
Coincidentally, after I left that meeting with Jackson, I stopped at an independent used bookstore--yeah, you too, huh?--just to see what they might have. When I did a quick check of their poetry section this name that I'd never heard prior to two hours before immediately popped out at me and I bought Meredith's 1997 Effort at Speech: New & Selected Poems.
That night I took it out to scan before sleep, just one book in a pile of books. I wish I could recall exactly how many poems and lines from that collection jumped out at me, but I don't remember. I know I never made it to any of the other books, though.
By the end of that evening I knew: here is a writer I want to learn more about. I figured the best way to do that was just bite the bullet and commit to doing a thesis about him. What exactly I'd say, I had no idea. I just knew I wanted to learn more about the person who wrote the way he did and about the things that struck such a chord in me.
I did the thesis and fell in love with the deep-life research process. Soon, I realized little had been written about him since his death in 2007. I started to see how many good stories and angles to his life hadn't been explored. Over the course my final MFA year, I slowly--very slowly and reluctantly, to be quite truthful--realized I wanted to be the one to tell those stories.
I gathered more research. Sought professional guidance. Joined the Biographers International Organization. Restructured my life to enhance my chances. Questioned my sanity daily.
It's much more complicated than that, of course, but that's the gist.
No one is a biographer until they are. So I said "Yes" and am figuring it out as I go.