I Podiumed in Poetry

So I’ve spent my summer hanging out with these people:

Image  Image

…which has been like eating a delicious dessert with my mind.

Summer has been delightful enough. I’ve made some new friends and acquaintances. And as I’ve interacted with these people (and others, who know me so much better), it has come to my attention that there is an important question I need to answer:

Why do I write?

Several people have asked this of me recently, and sometimes I have no reply. I feel like I’m sorting out a lot of things concerning roles and identity. (And I will answer just this question. I will not attempt to answer the question of the writer’s identity, or the Christian writer’s identity, or of being a female college student, or of the cultural disconnects. No, I will not answer those questions.)

Why I Write

I write because…
I am a poet. By this, I do not mean that I sit on cushions composing melancholy verses. (Thank goodness because I’m very terrible at that). It has everything to do with acknowledging the artistry of a thousand monotonous and miraculous moments. It means that I see the whole world differently than you. We poets are born like that. We are the ones who see puddles and glimpse gorgeous crispy mirrors, and we rejoice at them, and to us, they are as good as, or even equal to, mountains. As Miss Bates says, “We are the happy ones.” We are distracted away from normal conversations because we might have seen a poem. A few brave ones of us admit these things out loud:
“Look, do you see that poem?” [Anne] said suddenly, pointing.
“Where?” Jane and Diana stared, as if expecting to see Runic rhymes on the birch trees.
“There… down in the brook… that old green, mossy log with the water flowing over it in those smooth ripples that look as if they’d been combed, and that single shaft of sunshine falling right athwart it, far down into the pool. Oh, it’s the most beautiful poem I ever saw.” (Anne of Avonlea)
When people comment on how ugly the land is, we cannot even breathe because of the sky’s shade of blue. Other people “put away” cheesecake, but we perform deliberate ceremonies, and we are familiar with the specific moment when the fork meets the crust, the tiniest pressure, and the millisecond “thp” of slicing it. And when we hear music, we cannot concentrate on anything else, or even speak, and if someone does, it is as if they have broken a moral code.

I write because…
to write is to be humble. Very proud people, convinced of the worthiness of their opinions, are equally convinced of the inaccessibility of them, or the necessary rejection of their genius, and they never risk flashing their precious pearls before us, the swine. And in some ways, I understand that. It takes a truly humble person to write down one’s very silly human thoughts, sign one’s name, and give it to the world. Writing is giving, and givers must be humble. At the same time, writers can get too humble. Sometimes humble writers begin to take out all the frivolities of words because some strict and particular critic was too hard on them. Take heart. You will get your voice back.

I write because…
I cannot speak. As a poet, I take in a lot of things at once, and therefore I cannot put my thoughts together in a normal way. Sometimes things come out as poetry. Sometimes I speak in metaphors. My mind does not work, or link things, like a trained locomotive. No, it is rather like the spread petals of a daisy. And how do you link daisies? Well, you have to get to the stem and link it to a lot of other daisies. It takes a little more work, and it’s very delicate, but it’s kind of pretty.

I write because…
good writing is economical. (And since I was raised to appreciate thrift and efficiency… ) It was my eighth grade teacher who introduced this to me.
“But aren’t there some other words you could use here? Like this phrase, where you say, ‘I know I really do have a problem with….’ You could probably use a single word, or a shorter phrase, that means the same thing. Can you think of another phrase you could use here?”
I stared at my teacher blankly.
“I have no idea,” I said.
“You can’t think of another phrase, a shorter word, that means the same thing?” he asked.
“No,” I replied helplessly.
“Why not use ‘I struggle with’ or ‘I wrestle with’?” he suggested.
The proverbial light bulb went on in my eighth grade mind, and I learned, for the first time, the economy of words. And of minimalistic beauty. Like Emily Dickinson’s “A Bird Came Down the Walk.”

Also, good writing is mathematical. Most writers won’t admit this to you, but writing is really actually very formulaic. Mathematicians and left-brainers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. I have a friend who is researching the connection between English and Math and maintains that the two are actually very similar and there are connections between these two content areas that we can emphasize to help students who prefer one subject over the other. While I enjoy poetical endeavors, my mind is also very mathematical, and I think in very spatial ways, which helps to write a perfect sentence, or to rearrange words until the meaning is nearer to the thought.

I write because…
words are funny. Duty. Booby. Filibuster. Kerfuffle. Pumpernickel. Galoshes. Peek-a-boo! They’re funny, I tell you! Also, words are funny because they can be awkward. Take the word “awkward” itself, with the stupid “k” between the two double-u’s, its legs all splayed out. I’m telling you, it’s funny! And sometimes words are smart and they go well together almost as if they knew they were going to be written. I mean, “trained locomotive”? Average meaning and an outrageous pun. Stop that!
And these are just single words. Don’t even get me started on humor, sarcasm, irony, and all that poetic justice.

I write because…
writing is a milestone of learning. Sometimes I might feel like Jane Austen’s Emma, “What is the point of me being almost twenty-two when there is still so much for me to learn?”
But I do not believe that we can live our lives with this idea that at some point we’ll get it all right. No, rather it is that we reach little (and I mean little) milestones of learning. Writing expresses our excitement of those tiny milestones. Or it deliberates extensively of the struggle when we feel we have not reached the most important tiny milestones.

That is, simply, why I write.

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4 thoughts on “I Podiumed in Poetry”

  1. I love it. I actually agree that writing is mathematical. I am a formulaic teacher who encourages her students to drop the formula, but remember the pleasing form and what is inside it!

  2. love it. an easy read with not so tiny concepts well said. My favorite – the part about writers being humble people

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