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A poet and flight attendant based out of Oakland, California.
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5 Day Trip. Day 5 by Rosemary Griggs
I lived in San Sebastian, Spain for a year as an undergraduate and enjoyed getting to know another culture well enough that it began to open my mind to a different way of thinking. I have been studying French for the past year and a half with the goal of becoming a qualified French speaker on the San Francisco to Paris route so I can work that route more regularly. Our layover there is two days. While I plan to continue allowing all the cultures I encounter to influence my writing, I look forward to choosing one at this point to really study and embrace. In Paris it feels like it’s still worthwhile to pursue the fine arts. I could walk around the gardens every day and be inspired by the dark genius of Rodin’s statues. I love the twisted fits of brilliance jutting out of The Gates of Hell. I visited Père Lachaise Cemetery in September. To have the towering trees shedding their autumn leaves and hear the voices of children coming over the hill as I meandered the final resting places of some of my favorite people was enchanting. I have of course been (re)reading French poets and novelists as I study the language and culture. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has become very dear to me. He was an airline pilot. In his memoir Wind, Sand, and Stars, he speaks of many aspects of the airline profession and this “new breed of men” that ring true to me. The rich paradise of camaraderie alternating with isolation. Sometimes you have a wonderful crew to go out with and sometimes you’re alone in a hotel room or a strange place or even back at home where everyone else is participating in a Monday through Friday work routine that you aren’t part of, you don’t even feel on their time zone. When you understand that, you can understand why airline crews feel a strong familial bond with each other. Some of the greatest treasures one encounters exploring are the people you meet. “Thus is the earth at once a desert and a paradise, rich in secret hidden gardens, gardens inaccessible, but to which the craft leads us ever back, one day or another. Life may scatter us and keep us apart; it may prevent us from thinking very often of one another; but we know that our comrades are somewhere ‘out there’-where, one can hardly say-silent, forgotten, but deeply faithful. And when our path crosses theirs, they greet us with such manifest joy, shake us so gaily by the shoulders! Indeed we are accustomed to waiting.” -Antoine de Saint de Saint-Exupéry On occasion, Antoine would circle an airport for forty extra minutes before landing so he could finish reading a novel or working on his writing, much to the chagrin of the tower and ground staff. I would like to thank Best American Poetry for allowing me to be their Guest Author this week. It has forced me to look at my...
Posted Nov 7, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
5 Day Trip. Day 4 by Rosemary Griggs
There are many things about being a flight attendant that make you a political person. For one thing, you always have to keep one eye on the government to make sure U.S. airline jobs stay with U.S. workers. You have to organize to establish reasonable working conditions etc. Add to that having your place of employment in the crosshairs for America’s perceived behavior, you start to consider that behavior. I began my second manuscript at a time when there was a lot of discord in our country regarding which direction we should take. As a flight attendant, you have access to observing how other people behave in other countries versus the United States, and how people behave and think and speak differently from one state to the next. You’re able to walk around in it. Of course as a little explorer, I find it invaluable. In addition to my field observations (I’ll call it... :)), I read history books and was reminded of things such as the U.S. Civil War being unwelcomed by the Europeans who wanted our Southern cotton and tobacco. The Europeans were the Super Powers. They could have easily stuck their fingers into our war to speed up the supply of goods. If they had, the outcome could have been quite different... I also fell in love with our American Super Heroes. I hadn’t realized they had come about during the Great Depression and WWII, when our young nation needed someone to believe in, so we made them up. We gave them good American Values and dressed them in stars and stripes! I can’t help but utterly adore the outright moxy of this country. I needed a way to pull the poems together in my second manuscript. After showing the manuscript to Martin Corless-Smith and getting his insight, I realized the poems wove together like a dream. An American Dream with recurring images and themes. While there are no airline specific poems in this manuscript, it was still brought about because of concerns for my profession. It’s funny when people respond to something in your work you didn’t consciously realize was there. One thing people respond to this manuscript is an underlying sense of violence. When I was an undergraduate at Iowa I had a workshop with Mark Levine. He told us if we’re feeling something we don’t have to try to put it into the poem, it will be there. “If something is true, it is audible in a whisper.”
Posted Nov 6, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
5 Day Trip. Day 3 by Rosemary Griggs
The attacks of September 11th were very difficult for me as they were for many people. It was the last year of my MFA program. In addition to teaching and flying, I was finishing my thesis which was a book length collection of poetry about a flight attendant named Kimberlie. I was surprised some flight attendants were able to work right away. I was afraid there were going to be more attacks. I took an unpaid week off which the airline allowed us to do without a problem. After a week, I had to go back to work. I was scared and grieving but broke. In the briefing I had with the two other flight attendants prior to our trip, I told them I was scared and it was my first trip back. One of the other young women said, “I’m scared too, it’s my first trip too. My mom is coming on all our flights with us.” Her mom could pass ride space available for free as part of our employee benefits and it wasn’t a problem getting on any of the flights because they were all practically empty. In spite of what anyone may think, I fully admit I was so glad to have a mom there watching over us. The other young woman working with us didn’t seem frightened at all. Her husband was a high school history teacher and the attacks caused him to change his entire course to 9/11 backstory. For the first time in his teaching career, his students were enthralled. Of course, flying and finishing assignments and my thesis, 9/11 entered the poems. The fear I felt. The images I saw. Very shortly after 9/11, I went to the Hong Kong Ladies’ Night Market where a vendor was selling t-shirts with screened images of the Twin Towers burning right before they collapsed. The shirts were hanging outside his booth, high on display. He saw me looking at them with shock and disgust and he looked at me indignantly as if to say, “That’s right.” I had scheduled for Eileen Tabios to be the Guest Author in the class I was teaching. She spoke to the class about the difficulty of finding language immediately after a tragedy occurs. Grappling with language myself, all I could see was the image of the dust settling and feel a sense of quiet dislocation. Images without sound. It became the final poem of the collection.
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
5 Day Trip. Day 2 by Rosemary Griggs
One summer while I was earning an MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, I attended the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. I was in Forrest Gander’s group along with poet Eileen Tabios who was a fellow student. Even though the conference only lasted a week, it turned out to be quite influential on my writing. I had been working on a series of poems about a character named Kimberlie. In the one on one meeting, each student went over their five poem submission with the instructor. Forrest encouraged me to continue with the series and he likened it to Berryman’s Dream Songs. I was familiar with The Dream Songs but had yet to read them carefully and that provided me a direction for study. At that time, Kimberlie was not a flight attendant, I hadn’t given her a profession. The series was still very short. Eileen Tabios and I became friends in the class. I was already supporting myself as a fight attendant, and she encouraged me to make Kimberlie a flight attendant. I said, “No way.” For me, poetry was magical and sacred, and I didn’t want to encumber it with details from my day job which was meant to bring me places to write about, not be the focus of my writing. Eileen insisted that after I had a manuscript, even if it was a good manuscript, something would need to hold it together and make it stand out, and she felt basing it around a flight attendant could achieve that end. I still wasn’t biting. However, when I returned to balancing an MFA program and flying and writing homework assignments on layovers, it was much easier to write about what I had experienced that day. So Kimberlie became a flight attendant (or likely she already was and it was just me that wasn't ready to admit it) and I’m glad she did. I’m grateful to Eileen and Forrest and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference for spinning me in that direction.
Posted Nov 4, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
5 Day Trip. Day 1 by Rosemary Griggs
We stopped for a night in Bishop, California on our way back from backpacking in the Sierras. There were a handful of chain hotels to choose from-La Quinta, Best Western-and a few local motels. We decided it would be more fun to stay at a local place. The woman who worked the front desk lived in the unit behind it. Late thirties and 8 months pregnant, she came in behind us carrying a stack of sheets. “You want a room?” “Do you have one with a king size bed?” “I guess.” We drove ten feet from the office to park in front of our room, Number 6, our car nearly touching the room door. Our neighbor came out of Number 5 as we got out of the car. He lit a cigarette and cracked open his tall, silver can of Coors Light. It was 10:45 am. A woman could be heard yelling at him from inside the room. He shut the door cutting her off and sat down on the plastic chair inhaling. Our room had wood paneling and a faded painting of a flower. The long door stopper boinged when I flicked it with my toe. Off the bedroom there was a yellow kitchenette. Through the wall, I could hear the muffled voice of the woman still yelling at the man. Everything about the motel seemed as if a fantastic, awful scene that would be written by Sam Shepard and reenacted by Kim Basinger was about to happen. It was far from luxury, but I loved it, as I love encountering all kinds of different places. When I was growing up, I romanticized the life of Mark Twain. I thought, “What an exciting life to work on a ship so you can explore the world and write. Maybe I can do that one day.” And that’s what I do. I support myself as a flight attendant as I explore both domestically and internationally and work on my writing in hotels, at parks and cafes, and at home. I’m very grateful to Best American Poetry for allowing me the opportunity to be their Guest Author, and of course to Terrance Hayes who selected my poem for Best American Poetry’s current issue which brought this all together. While I can write about anything I choose, it was suggested one thing I may want to consider is the way in which my profession has shaped my writing. I’m looking forward to considering that over the next few days.
Posted Nov 3, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
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