I love to write. I have said it before, so I will spare you the details. If I explain how I feel about writing one more time, people may accuse me of being some kind of automated message on a customer service phone line. You know the ones where you are on hold for 60+ minutes. (Feel free to check out any of my other blog posts on writing in case you have been spared and this is new information.) I don’t like to limit myself to a single form of writing. I like writing editorials, journaling, writing memoirs, personal essays, fiction (both novels and short stories), and even screenwriting and television writing (I do consider them to be different because of the serial elements involved with television writing). You’ll notice I didn’t list poetry. I do write poetry, but I don’t like to.
For the past three years, whenever I write poetry it is because of one of the following reasons.
- I can’t ‘not write’ something that is demanding to be let out. Nonwriters will probably think this statement lacks sense or means I should be in some kind of padded room (and sometimes I wonder about both), but I think any other writer will get it. You have a line, an idea, a verse or even the whole damn thing in your head and it refuses to leave you alone until you write it. Think about those “are we there yet” moments and tell me how long you would last under such torment 24/7. When this happens, I don’t fight it (for very long anyway) and let it out and then put it away.
- I need to find my way back to my writing self. This has happened before, namely when something so traumatic happens I need to collapse deep within the recesses of my awareness for refuge. Heart, soul and mind completely exhausted and wired all at once, poetry is all that I have. The other instance that this occurs is when something happens to cause a physical disconnect. When I had my strokes in 2009, I could not write. I did a primitive version of blogging then, but it wasn’t what I considered writing (nor was it coherent or well written). Poetry was my way back. It was very much the same when I started dialysis. My body was so sick and close to death (or having just come back from death depending on the day) that whatever I was dealing with on the physical level severed the line of creativity deep within me. I had to slowly find my way back to that, and only once my body began to heal itself. Again, enter poetry.
I guess you could say that poetry is my gateway form of writing. It wasn’t the first type of writing that I played with. I started writing editorials at the age of five and short stories at the age of seven. I didn’t write my first poem until I was eleven or twelve. But for some reason it was the type I felt safest in and what was the most therapeutic for me. It was also the writing I did the most of from the age of twelve until the age of eighteen. If I needed to retreat or get something out it was in the form of a poem.
That is part of my problem now; poetry is this primitive need and a therapeutic tool I would rather not tamper with. If I do, it all falls apart. When I break down and into verse, I am filled with ten times more anxiety and frustration than anything else I have ever written. Why? Because I cannot handle my poetry the way that I handle other types of writing. I am a perfectionist. Anything I write will never be as good as it could be. I will always strive to revise, rewrite, reshape or retool. It is a part of the process, and yet I cannot touch a poem.
To me poetry is pure. I used to call it creative vomit, but a much better (and less disgusting) comparison would be to photography. My husband is into photography. I am not. I love photos (seriously have a problem in that there is never enough pictures, 5000 pictures later) but when it comes to taking them I point and shoot as many as I can, hoping that something actually turns out. But I don’t throw away any of my bad pictures. Think of those old instant picture cameras. The pictures it produces cannot be altered, primitively inaccessible to Photoshop or zoom. The pictures simply are what they are. That is poetry to me.
I don’t think my poetry is of the highest caliber (I would settle for intermediate really) but I just can’t mess with it. It is like trying to alter something sacred, completely untouchable. Of course this goes against everything I know to be true as well as every other instinct I have about being a writer. (Not to mention I am sure that every poet in the MFA program I graduated from is regarding me as the village idiot for such a statement.) Revision is necessary and I am certainly not lazy in that regard, but when it comes to poetry I freeze and do not even try to proceed. Perhaps it is a stubborn thing, but I just don’t do something that feels wrong at its core. It is up there with compromising my ideals or convictions. I can compromise on many things, but not if it fits into either of those categories. Like poetry, untouchable.
As an undergrad I took a poetry class in hopes that it would help me get over this editorial blockade when it comes to verse. It didn’t. I did get something out of it though. Before, poetry was raw and not planned out whatsoever; I just let it flow. With this class I played with different types, rhythms and like my stories, I plotted out my poems. I had a concept in mind, how I wanted to tell the story and then I did. But it didn’t make it any easier to modify once it was complete. (Though because of this planning, it was smarter and I daresay better poetry than I produced before that point.)
And this is why I can’t do verse. Or I guess not can’t, so much as won’t. It involves this internal war, not being able to touch something so pure and glorious and needing to revise it and have it complete the process. To me, a poem is raw creativity capturing a singular moment, emotion, thought, idea and presents itself to the reader in a way that defies rules, logic, formulas and good sense. Perhaps this is why it is so hard for me to try to make a poem perfect. Because perfection can be boring and like people, poetry is inherently flawed and therein lies its beauty.