Continuing to mark National Poetry Month with today’s post, I decided to address poetry specifically before eventually posting today’s poem. My new friend and fellow-blogger over at themaskedrabbitsblog posed a terrific question in her comment on my post from two days ago. (She also gave me a superb compliment − “I love your poems” − which of course is even more endearing!) I’m reproducing her comment below for your convenience in reading.
First of all, Bunny, it’s not a silly question and I appreciate your candor. (For readers who haven’t checked out Bunny’s blog, I love it! On the About page, Bunny describes herself as someone with “… a soft heart and a scratchy exterior.” Such refreshing honesty! That vulnerability runs through her posts and is conveyed via a warm and lively writing style.)
Where do I start with Bunny’s question? I begin with the exact time when I first learned to write (kindergarten? first grade?). The potential to communicate and choose particular words for the most precise meaning came to me early. Once I could move from verbal to written communication, I knew I’d tapped into POWER! There was a sense, a self-evident sense, that I am a writer. (“I think, therefore I am.” from my namesake, René Descartes.) In those elementary school years, I was already writing poetry, but I didn’t (at that time) consider myself a poet, just a writer.
By the time I reached high school, I had begun my first novel. I was a junior or senior when I participated with ten or twelve classmates in a Creative Writing class. It was an unusual class for the time because we weren’t required to stay in the classroom. As long as we were working on our writing assignments, the teacher gave us freedom to write wherever we chose. I continued working on my novel and other class assignments.
I took an extended hiatus from writing after high school, a period that lasted until after my children came along. I didn’t stop creating and there was always something to be written or edited, but mostly, I read, devouring stacks of books. When I nursed a baby, I’d hold the child with one arm and a book in my free hand. When the children were at T-ball, I’d sit in the bleachers reading a book. Many of the classics I hadn’t read during childhood were enjoyed while I was attending an event but free to remove myself mentally and concentrate on reading.
As the children grew, my longing to recapture my avocation resurfaced. At that point, I had ceased calling myself a writer; it was a hobby, a favorite pastime. This was mid-70s and through the 80s, a time when production and success established one’s bona fides. For a writer, production and success meant circulating multiple pieces to multiple publishers and actually being published. I could claim neither … so I accepted the conventional judgment, believing and admitting I wasn’t a writer.
But I knew in my heart I was.
Over the years, I did achieve publication in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I earned income doing free-lance work on assignment, submitting over-the-transom pieces from time to time, and I continued to work on personal projects. (There’s a concept from the dark ages! I’m not even sure writers make “over-the-transom” submissions any more!)
Turning a corner, in 2010 my younger daughter urged me to begin a blog (yes, this one). Previously, I’d avoided blogs with the excuse, “I want to r-e-a-l-l-y write, not just blog.” So my early efforts on this blog were half-hearted at best.
My daughter knows I’m a writer, just as I knew, but my production track record suffered hit and miss. At the time, I was mostly writing poetry and distraction came in a variety of ways. Further, only a few pieces of my poetry were deemed (by me) worthy of publication. I still didn’t think of myself as a poet.
Younger daughter and I often talk writing. (She’s talented and knows so much more than me!) We were talking poetry one day and I related to her my pleasure at having some focused writing time. I admitted a sense of inadequacy as a writer, because no matter how much poetry energized me, I told her, I’m not a poet! Without a moment’s hesitation, my daughter replied, “What are you talking about? I’ve always known you were a poet!”
Her words stunned me. Immediately, I recognized the truth of her statement, this daughter who somehow understands me better than I understand myself.
I am a poet! I AM A POET! I’d never have made that assertion a year ago. Yes, I’ve written plenty of poetry but rarely considered it worthy. (In truth, I have produced my share of drivel.) Still, I know with certainty that I’m maturing as a writer and poet. Even a subjective assessment tells me I’m a better poet today than I was a year ago … and certainly better than ten years ago. I’m comfortable today in asserting I am a poet.
Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned (only in the last year) is transparency, being open to invite others in, allowing others access to my poetry. That’s a huge step for me because I’ve spent my life wanting to be a home run hitter! Yet I’m forced to acknowledge the majority of my poems fall short. In a move that surprises even me, I’m posting poems I never intended to share!
Which brings me to this post’s poem, written in free verse with occasional rhyme. I was never able to craft this poem as I’d hoped. The nugget was there but it lacked … what?! Some quality I’m still trying to figure out!
Nevertheless, the poem addresses Bunny’s question. We set self-imposed limits on our art, including a reluctance to own the name poet. Have you been published? Is that the sine qua non for a writer? A poet? Who established that rule? Furthermore, why should we accept the rule as definitive?
A book from 2011 was titled Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. While there’s little money in writing poetry, the first half of that title is an excellent guideline. Do you love writing poetry? Do it then. Develop your craft, strive to become the best you can be at it. Don’t concern yourself with labels. Eventually, someone will look at you and exclaim, “You’re a poet!” You can smile back and nod, “Yes, I am.”
An insistent little voice in your head will add: “See? How could you ever have doubted?”