Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lambast the poet

In junior high, high school, and for most of college, I was a huge writer. Poetry was my medium, and during my freshman year in college, I felt like I'd finally hit a good place with my writing. My style changed and over the course of the next couple of years, I had definitely figured out my voice and style. 

My senior year it all stopped when I got caught inside my head about a number of things, including my point of view, my goals, my inspiration, and perhaps most importantly, the label of poet itself.

To me, there's a lot of weight to the term, and there are many different images that come with the notion of "the poet." I don't associate myself with it. I always feel weird when I tell people who don't know me very well that I love to write poetry, and that I am not a poet. Because I'm not. I'm not a wordsmith, word artisan, language crafter, or any other variation on that tune. I write poetry, but I am myself. 

As I've gotten older and have read more, both poetry and fiction, I have really begun to understand the other aspects that tripped me up senior year -- my point of view, goals, inspiration. I think it takes reading a lot of poetry and reading a lot of criticism of it to gain that understanding. As much as I'm a believer that anyone can write if s/he wants to, I think that to be a strong writer or effective writer, it really does take understanding what you're doing and why you're doing. In learning what you are doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it, you learn how you can progress, how people are receiving your work, and how best to respond to the inevitable questions that will come when you share your work. 

Moreover, it makes you a better reader. You can cut through the poetry easier, and you can best understand what's going on and why. Not only that, but you can lead others through challenging pieces, and you can (try) to forge a connection between the reader and the work and perhaps even lead the non-poetry readers into appreciating the art. Poetry is easy to dismiss because it is an art form; fiction is, as well, but fiction is better received by the reader because it's well taught and because it's much more aware of its reader. That's not to say it's an issue of genre because poetry comes in endless flavors, but, readers are better led to their tastes in fiction than they are in poetry, at least initially.

All of this is to say that I finally figured out what it is about my poetry that makes it mine and makes it its own entity. Perhaps it was swearing it off for a couple of years and removing myself completely to understand wholly why and how I do what I do. It's stepping back from the idea of the poet and poetry and steeping oneself into writing and style as things separate from our labels of type and genre. 

I don't try to mimic or imitate, though I love to bend and attempt similar exercises as some of the well-regarded poets. I do try to understand what they're doing and the effect it has on me as a reader. Heightening my awareness of the writing removes the poet from the poetry, and it sharpens my total understanding of language and images and purpose and goals.

And now, I'm back to writing poetry again. I'm not sure it's as smooth a transition as I'd like, but the mere fact I can do it again and understand what my purpose and goals are is an achievement. I'm still hesitant to share widely, though anyone who asks is certainly welcome to it. My reservation, of course, being that those who don't know me and my passion for writing will too quickly judge it as poetry from a poet. Rather, it's writing in the form of poetry from me. Likewise, I'm still struggling with finding my critics - the ones who will tell me when I'm full of crap or indulgent - something that is shockingly hard to find in a world of people who want to be poets and create poetry, rather than people who want to write and grow as writers. 

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