Everyday Poems #7, “The Advice of Writers”

mary karr

Mary Karr is mostly known for her memoirs – The Liars Club, Cherry, and Lit. That last one I devoured. But my first introduction to her was her book of poems, Sinners Welcome.

I was living in Greenwood, MS doing youth ministry when I got hold of that one. I carried it everywhere for a few weeks, picking it up when nothing else seemed to satisfy. But it did satisfy. She plunges deep and then hits you upside the head in a way only a New Yorker from rural Texas can.

She is brutal and beautiful, very often in the same line. And her newest collection of poems, Tropic of Squalor, is a favorite. If I was good at marketing I would not include one of her poems, because it will easily overshadow my own. But most marketing is successful and also foolish.

The Voice of God

Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
(Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

Genius. Well, I am pretty sure it was from her I heard the advice that you will be a better writer if you write as if your parents are dead. Don’t worry about offending. There is a truth that can only be spoken if you are not worried about offending your parents.

That advice rang true. But I loved my parents more than my writing so it never sat well with me.

Actually, it might’ve been Anne Lamott now that I think about it.


 

The Advice of Writers Is

to write
as if your parents are dead.
That way
you will not be afraid to tell
the truth.
This should be easy for me
since mine
have gone on ahead of us all.
But honestly
I’d rather write as if I could
take them
to Cracker Barrel for biscuits.
And besides
I’m afraid when I don’t hold
a door
for ladies walking in and out,
my mom
will rise up and give me that look
I’d pay
anything to witness once more.