Glitter and Gasoline in the Blood
Mindy Nettifee is a poet and a powerhouse of eloquence. Bust Magazine refers to her poetry as “the linguistic orgasm we've all been waiting for," and her bio reads like the poet equivalent of a rock star:
She has performed and taught in over 500 hundred of venues, colleges and universities across America and Europe, competed in five National Poetry Slams, opened for indie rock act the Cold War Kids, headlined national poetry tours The Last Nerve, The Whirlwind Company and The Poetry Revival, and was featured in the critically acclaimed poetry concert documentary The Drums Inside Your Chest. Her stories have been featured on The Moth podcast.
The list of achievements goes on and the celebrity status only increases. Some naysayers may see that as unseemly, but I see it as an artist earning recognition by reaching a broader audience, and for that she should be congratulated. Write Bloody authors have been an important set of poets in my life, and her most recent book, “Glitter in the Blood: A Poet’s Manifesto for Better, Braver, Writing,” which was published in 2012, first put Nettifee on my radar.
I had been in Portland less than a year when I had the chance to hear Nettifee read her work back in 2013. Leading up to the reading, I had been reconnecting with my first boyfriend, who lived (lives?) in Salt Lake City, Utah. He initiated the contact, and after a few weeks of talking had bought a plane ticket to come see me.
The rekindling had left me nervous and shaky along the way. Each time his name appeared on my phone, I was reliving in my head how it ended, right along with how it had worked; a collision of before and after simultaneously. How he dumped me for his ex four days after I had had my gallbladder removed and five days before Christmas. Ice skating in Park City as a large-flaked light snow began to fall around us, the only two on the rink. He called me while filling up on gas. I could hear the nozzle click in and out of his car through the phone – that’s how long it took. Talking until four in the morning on the first night we met. I remember later that same day as the breakup, trying to buy a white elephant gift for a work holiday party I didn’t want to make it through. Doped up on painkillers, I silently cried in the decoration aisle of a Kmart for the first time over the end of the relationship. Seeing the play ‘A Christmas Carol’ with his parents. He was my first real defined love, at the ripe age of 22.
Right before the reading was to start, I received a text from him informing me that the visit – and the flirtation that had been building – meant nothing more than that to him: flirtation. That nothing else was to happen, and if I wanted, he could still cancel the trip.
And just like that, what I expected to happen, did, and it still took me by surprise. I waited to answer him, and instead listened to the words of Mindy Nettifee with a fake-chipper expression on my face that was out of place for a poetry reading at Powell’s bookstore, yet concealing my humiliation. She read a mix of her work, both old and new, but was largely there to promote the work of her book, “Glitter in the Blood.” While she discussed the glitter in her blood and in her writing (and I would add in her presence), mine felt full of gasoline. After darting out of the reading to avoid mingling, I had sat down outside on a nearby bench to text him it was fine to still come. Secretly hoping I could change his mind in person, yet largely feeling defeated.
The trip came and went with the two of us getting along great, the way we always did, and the two of us never speaking again since his visit. But I still have Mindy Nettifee’s book to teach me new lessons. The best part of Glitter is that it is not an instructional manual, but rather a dialogue between author and reader. Nettifee lists plenty of staple writing advice, but where she goes beyond that is by injecting her own life and her own work into the process. She discusses her writing process, but after listing prompts to write on, she responds to the prompts as well, sharing what she comes up with, and how she edits the pieces after. Glitter also is an exploration of other writers and how they influence her own work – for example a particularly insightful dialogue with Rebecca Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me” – and the book serves as inspiration to write complete with “tear-out inspirado,” while imparting her own reasons to write.
There’s a line from an untitled Nettifee poem – you can even find it on a list of the best poems to read at a wedding that aren’t cheesy, with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Pablo Neruda – that shifted the perspective of heartbreak for me. It’s an ideal that we all want to reach for ourselves, to be that self-aware as to take the lesson from the exact moment in life or a break up as being just that, a moment that will pass. But sometimes hearing it from someone else is needed: “I want to throw a party for the heartbreak / that turned you into a poet.”
I just want to throw a party for it all.
If you’re in the Portland area, check out some of Mindy Nettifee’s upcoming performances at the Clinton Street Theater on October 12th and March 14th and her work with Backfence PDX.