Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jeff Crandall on "The Glassblower"

“The Glassblower” was written during my first summer working as an administrative staff person at Pilchuck Glass School. As a poet thrust into this creative furnace of artistry, I was struck by two things: how the fragility, clarity/opacity, and malleability of glass serve in so many ways as metaphors for the human condition; and how extremely sexual the language of glassblowing is: gloryhole, lip wrap, bench blow, etc. I was told by artist Pike Powers that this vernacular arose from carnival terms, “gloryhole” being the peephole through which one could see erotic acts.

If you choose hot glass as an art form there are some facts you must accept: you will get burned; you will get cut; you will watch a thing of beauty that you have agonizingly crafted at great expense smash to the floor before it even gets to the annealer. As a gay child/teen/young adult I got to experience all these metaphorical pains on a deeply visceral, emotional level, but I didn’t have the luxury of choosing that path. Seeking love, acceptance, and a sense of self, I found sex in consistently shame-based scenarios. (My Catholic upbringing didn’t help matters!) So this is a poem of redemption—but one that does not require any divine intervention. The narrator, through the language and experience of glassblowing, has come to terms with his own past and can move forward in a beautiful and significant way.

I found the redemptive metaphor of glass even more powerful than that of the Ugly Duckling or the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Those events happen only once. The notion of cullet—all that smashed glass shoveled back into the furnace—means that you can fail over and over again, and—yes!—still arise beautiful and new. (How many drug addicts have needed that vital, 17th chance before finally getting their act together?)

“The Glassblower,” published late in 2009, is about 15 years old—a synchronicity that can’t be ignored since some of the events in the poem occurred for me at the same age. The first section of the poem was the germ that got my brain going. I wrote the next three sections over three or four months, as each experience struck me then resonated into language.

I sent this poem out to many, many places, and it was universally rejected without comment. (“What do you mean you don’t want to publish a four-page poem about emotionally devastating gay blowjobs?”) I have revisited it more times than I can count, and each time I have left it with the solid belief that it is Complete. There is nothing I can add, nothing I can take away. In putting together my most recent book-length manuscript, I balked at including it, but the encouragement of poet Kathleen Flenniken made me revisit the poem, and I began sending it out again. I am pleased and honored that it found a home at Beloit Poetry Journal.