So do allow this quill
to risk another flight,
since, having offended once,
it otherwise has no leave.– Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Phyllis
Mexican author Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote the poem Phyllis for the Marquise de la Laguna, Maria Luisa, Countess de Paredes, whose close friendship and love afforded her the protection necessary to write politically charged secular and feminist prose and poetry from a convent in Mexico during the late 1600s. This was no small feat, and soon after Maria and the Marquis de la Laguna departed Mexico for Spain, Sor Juana’s pen fell silent. Shortly thereafter, Sor Juana died at the age of 33.
Sor Juana was a genius. Despite being born fatherless and so remanded to life as a Daughter of the Church, she managed to study Latin and learned to write with fierce precision and revolutionary bravery during her childhood in her grandfather’s country home. Later, Sor Juana attended a girl’s school, where she coaxed a teacher to show her how to read. When her mother refused to send her to college disguised, per Sor Juana’s request, as a boy, she dug in as an autodidact and went on to become one of the greatest Mexican Baroque literary figures.
She was the Joan d’Arc of early feminine secular poetry and literature, quill and ink in hand instead of a blade and blood, using what privilege she could find in an attempt to become a mouthpiece of womankind, instead of one of the Church’s God. Sor Juana died too in a blaze, though one of fever, not of fire. Sor Juana, however, apparently resigned from her fight just prior to her death of the plague, beat down by the patriarchal rules of her day. Sor Juana died caring for other plague-stricken nuns in her convent. Some might say she saw God just in time, and fulfilled her duty as a Daughter of the Church.
I say the Man beat Sor Juana right down. Still, Sor Juana is of great inspiration to me as a feminist and a poet.
Sor Juana had a bigger fight on her hands than I do; however, those lines from “Phyllis” resonate from my little poet’s soul every day of my life. I’m a woman. There are women all over the world who must fight tooth and nail for any education at all, and then must fight for the right to write as they wish. I am a staunch, self-educated DIYer. I generally publish my work outside mainstream venues. I’ve written plays about places like China which were performed in China, rather illegally, somewhat in the same vein as Sor Juana’s plays in Mexico. I’ve written a book of poems.
It was published.
And now, I want another one.
I wrote the following essay about that desire just a few months after my first book was published.
It is of note that this essay was soundly rejected several times prior to publication by Luna Luna Magazine, which somehow, deep inside my poet’s (poet being a label itself worthy, apparently, of rejection – though I hardly think most writers would want us to call our forlorn poet selves ‘writers’) soul, causes me to turn to “Phyllis.”
All that said, since I wrote this, a publisher has expressed interest in my second manuscript, although it’s not written as of yet. Perhaps if he sees this essay, he’ll change his mind. I hope not. Sir, do not change your mind! So do allow this quill/ to risk another flight! I’m writing as fast & well as I can.
Some Post-Publication Depression (PPD) Poet Problems
- Friends say you remind them of this or that crazy poet, but good crazy, like you. Not bad crazy, like that other poet. You know, the one who writes a lot like you.
- People tell you if you ever want to have any real impact as a poet, your next book should be a memoir or a book of short stories.
- You consider Craigslisting a poetry benefactor.
- You put an ad in but take it out after getting a bunch of dick pics in response.
- What little money your poems might earn, you soon realize will be taxed. This is called the Poetry Tax. You’ll be poorer than when you started.
- You are, after all, a poet. They all die hungry and alone.
- You begin to write a memoir.
- You can’t get to the volta, and so you scrap it into poems.
- You realize writing a memoir as a poet is a lot like trying to achieve orgasm while your baby is crying in the next room.
- You suspect a plot.
- You realize you will never be as famous as Sappho.
- You realize you will never even be well known as any of the poets with multiple books in the clearance bin in the small press poetry section at Powell’s.
- You will never find a publisher for your second or third or fourth books anyway.
- You realize you will never be as well known as any of the poets with even a single book in the clearance bin.
- You voice these fears. You lose all your friends. You are, after all, a poet. They all die hungry and alone.
- “When I find myself in times of trouble, Sor Juana comes to me.”
- You know nothing about writing poetry anyway, so you take to mailing bad villanelles on postcards to people you don’t know; making lists instead of writing any poems besides the postcard poems; eating poppies from the neighbor’s garden in the hopes they are the good kind of poppies; moping; sulking; and finally, riding your bicycle slowly back and forth on your driveway, in just your bathrobe and a pair of boxer shorts you stole from a novelist you once slept with because he told you he liked your poetry. He was horrible. All you have of him now are the boxers and the robe, and a bunch of URLs to his work.
- You hope not to give up and die of the plague like your patron non-Saint, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.