On Writing Poetry


a view of the stereo room, including the horrible eye

Deciding to write poetry was a real leap of faith for me.  I clearly remember standing on a trail at the Grand Canyon and saying to Bob, “I think I want to write poetry.”  And Bob said, “Well, okay, do it then.”  And I said, “Well, every pretentious asshole out there that has a keyboard thinks they can write poetry.”  He said, “That’s true.”  Or something.  To tell you the God’s honest truth, I don’t remember what he said, because the point was that I had articulated my doubt to myself (husbands make great sounding boards, at least mine does), and it turned out it wasn’t strong enough to stop me.  I started writing poetry right there on that trip.

The thing was, that I had recently met some writers that, as far as I could see, were totally not pretentious assholes at all, yet wrote poetry unapologetically and well, taking it seriously but not too seriously.  And I wanted to join them.

Another thing is– and I think this actually came first– I belonged to an on-line community started by a writer that sometimes wrote some fairly decent poems and I thought that if he could do it, so could I.  Unfortunately, he did turn out to be kind of an asshole, not really pretentious but self-righteous and arrogant.  He also kicked me out of the community.

But I digress.

I joined another on-line community and I love it.  Actually, I joined two, one for poetry exclusively and one for all creative endeavors.  My fellow members and their work are inspirational.  I never get angry in these communities, unlike in that first one, which is a good thing.  These groups are all about sharing and supporting, not challenging.  Challenge is not what I need at this juncture.

I took a poetry writing class in high school.  (All I remember from it was Capers, my teacher, saying, “You can’t just throw  in whatever punctuation you want, anywhere you feel like it.”  My response was, “Well, Emily Dickinson does it.”  And Capers doing a bit of a face-palm and saying, “She had reasons for it!”  She should have told me I was no Emily Dickinson!  She was also not impressed with my poem from the point of view of a veal calf.)  And I remember writing some tortured angsty poetry when I broke up with a boyfriend a year after that.  Then I didn’t try it again for almost twenty years.

I’m actually not bad at it, I don’t think.  Last year’s near-death caused some subtle alchemy in my mind, changing a lot of things about me– among other things, I’m more liable to say ‘what the hell?’ and try things, but I also think maybe I just became ready to do it.  I have written prose since I was about nine years old and maybe poetry was just the next logical link in the chain.

I love the idea of distilling images, thoughts, feelings down into the strongest language possible, omitting needless words.  Now, thoughts come to me in poem form and the more I do it, the more I feel the urge to do it.  Finally, I feel like I’ve reached the point where I’m truly writing for myself, an important pinnacle for a praise junkie such as myself.

But, as if to keep myself from getting too serious about it, I came up with this poem last night:

i remember,
once when another teacher
was reading a book of poetry
and she read a poem
that really touched her.
she was chuckling and shaking her head
and she let me read it.
yeah, i said,
handing the book back,
that’s a great poem.
and in my head,
i was thinking
what in the fuck are you talking about?
was that supposed to mean something?

oh, well.
i hated her anyway.


another view of the horrible eye


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