Nestuary: A Mentor Series Success Story
It started—well, how far does one back up to tell the story properly? It started with Anne Frank in second grade and her diary she called Kitty? It started in high school when I fell in love with poets with beautiful navels? It started when I sat on the porch of our duplex, post-BA and panicked, without a job? It started while I was teaching high school and discovered a friend of mine published a stunning book of poems and remembered—oh, yes, and thick with pride/envy—that’s what I wanted to do too? It started during my MFA program, or during my pregnancy?
It could have started any of those times, I admit, but it really kicked in at the end of my time in the 2012–2013 Loft Mentor Series. I first recognized my need for the program when Tracy K. Smith came to town to spend a weekend with the mentees, and at her reading, I thought, “This is exactly it.” I knew I needed some kind of structured program to keep my trajectory going, and this is exactly what the Loft provided. I had a summer and then, in August, I dug into my time as a mentee. I became heady as the group coalesced, cementing a support network, challenging me to rethink not only what I wrote but how I was writing it.
In April of 2013, I participated in Tupelo Press’s fundraising effort, the 30/30 Project, in which I wrote a new first draft every day. It was exhausting and exhilarating and it propelled me right into the first draft of Nestuary, which was written, essentially, in a weekend. My tech-savvy husband propped two monitors; I used one for the writing and one for the research. And out came the book, a sudden shock of prose and verse, the story of my infertility treatments and difficult pregnancy and cesarean section and that strange, surreal, gorgeous time after, with my daughter, and then, my son.
So much happened in the lead-up that allowed for such a dramatic spurt. I read my friend Opal C McCarthy’s lyric essay Surge: An Oral Poetics. I read Christine Hume’s Ventifacts. I read Jenny Boully. I read Claudia Rankine. I began to understand this hybrid form, the prose poem in extension. Then Sarah Vap, whose The End of the Sentimental Journey took off the top of my head, posted a call from Ricochet Editions, for lyric essays and other hybrid forms of approximately 7500 words. Instead of checking my manuscript for pages, I checked it for a word count, and it grew, fitting form and count. I kept discovering new bits to add: headless Victorian portraits, thoughtless comments from politicians, chefs making cheese from wifely breastmilk. The memoir pieces began to keep company with mythology and invocation and history.
My story is not my own—it belongs to so many women whose bodies have experienced the trauma and disregard and gentle love that is modern birth. As my mother-in-law said, it was as if a fire was lit under me. A chorus of light.
I submitted Nestuary in mid-May and it was accepted a little over a month later, just before the last session I had with the Loft Mentor Series of 2012–2013. I was able to share the news with my cohort, which thrilled me—look, look at what my time with you did!
Molly Sutton Kiefer is the author of the hybrid essay Nestuary (Ricochet Editions, 2014) and the poetry chapbooks The Recent History of Middle Sand Lake (Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press, 2010) and City of Bears (dancing girl press, 2013). Her work has appeared in The Collagist, Harpur Palate, Women’s Studies Quarterly, WomenArts Quarterly, Berkeley Poetry Review, you are here, Gulf Stream, Cold Mountain Review, Southampton Review, and Permafrost, among others. She is a member of the Caldera Poetry Collective, founding editor of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, serves as poetry editor to Midway Journal, and runs Balancing the Tide: Motherhood and the Arts | An Interview Project. More can be found at mollysuttonkiefer.com