I used to write a lot of poetry. I honestly think that most people did. Or, at least, that most teenage girls of a literary bend did. I loved to write it but it was dramatic and not completely honest. I wrote about the people I loved and the people who thought they loved me and knowing the difference. I wrote about being a virgin and then about not being a virgin. I wrote about starving myself and hurting myself. I know that I was not “normal” but the older I get the more normal it all feels. When I got to college I wrote about the boy I was convincing myself to love and how messed up society was and how hard everything was. Then I just stopped.
I just stopped.
I can really point it back to my undergrad and two classes: Intro to creative writing and Creative Writing: The Short Story. When I started the intro class, I was put into a group with two other students. For the rest of the semester we would read our work to each other, critique it, edit it, and reread it before submitting. I was put in a group with literally the dumbest woman I had ever met at that point. She was going for the primary education degree, English and social sciences. She had a hard time with writing. She brought her baby to class and actually breast fed during our sessions, which disturbed the 20 year old me to no end. She didn’t understand capitalization or punctuation. When it came time to do the poetry unit she pretty much rewrote “The Road Less Traveled” with a farm scene at the beginning. Her note, in red pen, on my poem was, “This doesn’t rhyme!” It was a poem I was very proud of, about women and society. That was the moment that I thought, “Why would I bother if people like this are going to talk about how my poems don’t always rhyme??” I am a big fan of rhyming but I understand that poems don’t Have To.
The following semester I took the short story class because I was too scared to take the poetry class. I was beginning to think that my poems were a bit adolescent. I enjoyed the class. I did some of my best work in the class. The professor took my writing to new levels and the people in the class questioned all of the right things. One of the short stories I wrote was a blatant “piss off” to the professor, who I had developed a slight crush on because he helped me so much. He forbid us from killing of characters so I did and I won all of the praises. It was such a good story that a local theater guy I knew from school asked me to make it into a script. It will be filmed probably next autumn. When I wrote that story and another absolutely great one, I decided that poetry wasn’t my thing. I needed narrative. I needed paragraphs and dialogue and chapters. It was the first time I realized that I maybe could actually write something good.
And so poetry fell to the wayside. I still wrote in once in a while, in the margins of my notes and amongst doodles in my French class (that I barely passed, it should be noted). A few years ago, I decided to write it again and I launched a blog with the idea that I would write poems there. I wrote one. which I still think is terribly good, and never touched it again. I still loved poetry. I loved to read it aloud to myself and the cats. I loved to read it every day. Every September I took out Spoon River Anthology, my absolute favorite. I admired it but never wrote it.
I decided to revisit poetry when Hubby bought me a typewriter. It was the first year we were together, when he was still known as Gooey. I told him that I wanted a typewriter for my birthday in passing as a test. That man ran all over hell searching for one. He went so far as to go back to garage sales we had been to without me just to plug them in and see if they worked. My typewriter came in a box with a bunch of funny stuff about how much better for the environment it was than wrapping paper written on it and it came with two new ribbons and a ream of paper. I swore that I would write nothing but poetry on the paper and took it back up.
But I was rusty and I was determined to beat the old poetry into the ground. Most of what I have written has been… lackluster. There are a few good ones. I would think that my best are what I like to refer to as the “death series.” When my father died, I knew that it was something I could only express in fragments. The feelings were just too much to put into prose. In poetry you can say all of the weird things. You can say, “I wanted to take you into me/ Make you stay one more day.” You can say, about another funeral, a particularly shocking one in the community I work in, that the cars looked like ants, carrying their crumb to the graveyard.
But now that I am back into it, ever so slightly, I can tell that I am not smart enough to be a poet. Nobody wants to read about a poet putting the top down and getting an iced tea, even if it leads to the biggest regret of her life: that she didn’t make the turn to visit her father two days before his death. Maybe if I were smarter I could pull it off… But, as the blog says, I is who I is. I wish that I could put every moment of that last drive, the last drive of my childhood really, into a poem that meant something.
Isn’t that the essence of a poem, though? Isn’t it about getting down to the bone and marrow of it? Isn’t it about the fields you took a picture of the fields and the turn you forgot to take and the falling down farmhouse where cows walk in and out and the reason that you didn’t go back when you could have? (I was tired and wanted a nap and I was on a staycation and, anyway, I would see him tomorrow.) Isn’t there a poem in there? Why does it have to be, oh, I don’t know, verbose? Can’t it just be me being me and seeing those last days like sand in an hourglass? Isn’t this whole effing paragraph a poem waiting to happen?
What is poetry and what makes it great and what makes it worth our time? That’s the question. It seems simple but the answers are too complicated for me. I am, after all, just a girl taking pictures of a field in September.