I invented myself, the poet
on a midnight, when the air hung
thick with summer. I wore the skin
of a 14-year-old and a mind
so child-like the Lord Jesus
would’ve been proud. I wrote about
head voices and desert
blood, and save me, save
me, oh Lord, gripping the pen
like it could make me. Like I
could find definition in ink,
sandpapering myself into dresses
and legs, gliding on feet that
possessed every footfall. I asked
the blank page for a reflection
because the mirror had none to offer.
I invented myself, the poet
I took off my glasses for this poem. I wanted to knnow
if words meant the same whenI couldn’t see them.
The pastor taught from the pulpit that only natural
is best, but natural says that the world is a mess of
ccolor and meaning is absent. The philospher said your
color is not the same as my color but my shape of reality
is not yours either; I see storm clouds and fireworks
and the incomprehensible language of unearthly civilizations.
All I have written is an unstable column on the verge of collapse
I’m already a day behind, but here’s poem two for National Poetry Writing Month:
I muted the edges of the world
in February when the ground was already concave
scooping ice into my mouth to fill in the gaps
of my jagged teeth
everything in that moment
was a fortress overcoming the winter
in the rapidity of time
I didn’t wait to see how easily the ice snaps
the fragility of daggers
spitting out cold onto hard ground
in the mimic of a thaw
Today marks the first day of National Poetry Writing Month – writing a poem a month for the entire month of April. I participated a few years ago and it’s a nice motivation to write, especially since the expectation is on quantity rather than quality.
So here’s my first poem for the first day of NaPoWriMo.
Before cardboard sunsets and palm trees we ask for God beauty
in the light and paint searching for hands to bridge the distance created
by the need for longing,
by an ache that could gash the world, but still we wait in expectation
as though sunshine should be a gift with an aftertaste, and taking
it into our wounds,
we ask to never see more than the backdrop of heaven never lose
the scope of anticipated grandness past the wall of horizon
we grasp open-palmed.
More than “terrible,” I think my biggest fear in writing is “pretentious.” Terrible writing can be improved with time. Terrible writing just says you need to work harder, refine your skill, study more, read more, and get better.
“Pretentious” says that you believe your writing is better than it actually it is. It says that you think you’re better than you really are. It has within it an implicit, “Who do you think you are?” Who do you think you are, to think you could write something meaningful and important? It shares meanings with the popular phrase, “special snowflake,” that says, “you think you’re so special, you think what you’re doing is so clever, when you’re just nothing.” Unlike terrible writing that allows for improvement, pretentious writing says that the failure was in the trying.
And that, more than terrible writing, feels like an insurmountable obstacle.
Because part of writing is believing you are somebody. Underneath the immobilizing doubt, fears of inadequacy, and certainty that every word being penned is utter trash, you’re writing because you believe you have something worth saying. You believe your words deserve to exist. You want people to read what you have to say.
That’s why “pretentious” holds so much power. It stops me from being able to pick up a pen. Every word I write, I scrutinize for how pretentious it might sound, and once it’s swimming before my eyes and stops looking like a real word, I scribble it out.
I’ve read pretentious writing. I’ve read writing filled with superfluous descriptions intended to provoke deep feelings that completely fell flat. But I notice with myself, and I wonder how much it applies to others, that this criticism mostly gets aimed at women. Men – white men, specifically – can pontificate about anything – they get to write the novels of purple prose and think deep thoughts, and have people wowed by their words. They don’t get “who do you think you are?” to the extent that others do. It becomes a very easy way to put someone in their “place,” to remind a person that their ideas, perspective, opinions, will never be taken seriously. That they don’t deserve to have them taken seriously.
This fear is my main cause of writers block. Who do I think I am? How arrogant can I possibly be, to think that I have anything worth saying? That I could write anything interesting, meaningful, or dare I say it, profound?
But I forget – one person’s profound is another’s pretentious. One person’s shallow is another’s good entertainment. The writing world isn’t made up of one reader peering over my shoulder, judging everything I write. That “reader” that I think exists is me and my own critical judgment. But the evidence is in the wide array of books that exist in this world – every one of them has their reader, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.
Writing is an act of vulnerability, and part of that is recognizing that there is no pleasing everyone. Instead, my goals should be writing what I want to read, focusing on myself as my own reader. Because if I’m my own reader, who’s to say someone else won’t be either?
Who do I think I am? A writer. I am a writer. And my writing is allowed to exist.
I see writing stories as going through a maze in the dark. Sometimes I know where the exit is, or maybe different parts of the maze I need to get to, but for the most part, all I know is where I’m standing and that I need to reach that end point.
My first rough drafts consist of me wandering through the maze. Aimless, doubling back, sometimes taking only a few steps before I turn right around and go a different direction. Many times I’m not even sure this process makes me “count” as a writer – the story in this stage is so fuzzy, more a concept than an actual story. Many times I’m terrified that I’ll wind up at some dead end and that will be the point that I will be too frustrated, bored, and clueless to continue. Or that maybe I wasn’t writing a story to begin with and there’s no point.
But really, I’m learning the maze as I’m walking through. Every word, every little scene, every time I make a decision to have my character be one way rather than another, or add another little dimension to the plot, I’m creating it.
By the end, I’ll have to erase all the places I wandered, doubled back, all the dead ends I reached. Get rid of all the contradictory paths, the places I meandered so far off from the end point that it’s incomprehensible.
I used to believe that “real writers” didn’t have to do this. Real writers got story ideas in their head whole cloth, first rough drafts were maybe a little weak but still complete, real writers didn’t have countless pages in their notebooks scribbled out. But I wonder now if I just romanticized the idea of what a “real writer” is. The method of how a story is written isn’t nearly as important as getting it done. No matter how many rough drafts it takes, no matter how many times I walk through this same stretch of maze and find myself hitting my head against the same dead end.
I will reach the end point. And then I will walk through the maze, again and again and again, until I can walk through it from beginning to end, easily and smoothly, following the right path.
When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry about big ideas. Mostly about God, I was a pretty passionate fundamentalist then. But also ideas about morals in general, politics, big topics where I was thinking about the vastness of humanity and identity.
I think that’s an important part of teenage poetry. That’s the first time I was really engaging with any ideas, the first time I could really think about what the world meant, what life meant, what I thought and believed. Most of it (more like all, actually) was parroted ideas from my mother and from church, but the act of writing was the act of actually contending with these ideas, learning to confront them in a context that I felt was safer.
Now that I’m older, I find that I’m writing much more simply. My poetry is about me, is about people I know, it is about the little moments. It’s everything I would have hated as a teenager, things I would have found shallow and lacking any kind of meaning. Personal things that as a teenager I refused to look at and had no words or experience to understand about myself.
It’s interesting to me, that progression, the way that I can use my poetry like a diary, see the map of growth, my progression as a person, the way that my ideas and sense of self has changed over the years.