Not the Poems

As I’m clearing out my possessions, my bookshelf is becoming vacant.

I donated three boxes of books to the library last week. It felt good.

I had a fourth box I didn’t bring. And I realized, it can’t go.

Not the poems. I donated several student publications I had collected since college. They were greedily picked over, and the look of delight on the workers’ faces was edifying, I admit. I liked knowing my books will find a new life with these eager readers. I gave them free chapbooks from traveling poets I’ve met. I gave them old student literary journals, a few I was published in myself.

But I’m unpacking that fourth box.

Not Sharon Olds.

Not Diane Wakoski.

Not Robbie Q. Telfer.

Not Meggie C. Royer.

Not Nick Flynn.

Not Sylvia Plath.

Not Robin Metz.

Not Ryan McLellan.

Not Jewel.

Not Neruda.

Not Susan Slaviero.

Not emily rose.

They stay with me. I will re-populate my shelves. But they are the townspeople, I will not evict them.


Eating Poetry and the Wonder of Language

Yesterday, I analyzed poems with others. For the first time in a very long time.

And I felt free.

The instructor asked me for something to go over, and I gave her one I feel proud of. She made copies, and we went over mine and one other poet’s work. It’s a small workshop.

I drove to Chicago for this. It was worth it.

Our group is a nice mix. People who are just getting exposed to poetry, trying out writing it for the first time. They don’t know how, and just want to express their feelings and swim in the language.

We had to fill out paperwork! To justify the need for and funding of the workshop. The first question was about my experience with poetry. It offered barely a smidgen of space. Essay questions were always my favorite.

As a writer, I tend toward the critical side. That’s a drawback of being passionate about something. Because I’m educated about the process of writing and it comes naturally to me, I tend to be precious about grammar and style. English was also my secondary discipline in college. I majored in journalism because it was structured and had a safe career track. But my true love is creative writing. Anti-Transcendentalist writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville. Beat writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg. Poets like Sharon Olds, Sandra Cisneros, Marty McConnell, and recently, Meggie Royer.

Twice, I’ve tried to start writing groups. The first time was in college. I didn’t open the group to campus– it was invite only. I only wanted “good” writers, people I knew. I didn’t want to deal with anyone who wasn’t ¬†already a strong writer. It was a very naive way to conduct the group. I could never keep the group together– people weren’t committed, or we had to cancel because of homework or classes or other obligations. We didn’t have a consistent location. Every meeting was wonderful, however. Our meetings never seemed to be bigger than three or four people– they were intimate and always different.

The second time was a few years ago, a male friend and I wanted to bring some creativity to the area. We tried to start it, and I was very fussy– again– about the structure. I only wanted six people in the group– again, invite-only. One person wrangled for an invitation in, and I relented. He ended up being a great addition– very excited about writing. We had a wonderful group– everyone knew each other in various degrees, and we gelled supernaturally well. We all shared something.

But again, it didn’t work out. Problems with location again, and two people didn’t have a car so couldn’t make meetings unless given a ride and it wasn’t always feasible for myself or other members to pick them up. The male friend I started the group with worked late nights at a job out of town, and could never make it meetings on time. He made it to one meeting– and he honestly tried. But we couldn’t have them too late, due to weather and darkness and safety.

Maybe some day I can try again. I love talking about writing, and sharing it with others. This time I would relax a bit more.

But one lesson I’ve learned is to just APPRECIATE. To be open to new people, to see the beauty in everyone’s effort. Even if they’re just beginners, using simple words and images.

One of the women in our group shared a simple prose poem about pain and water and reflection– and I loved how much everyone saw in it. It was raw. It was straight from her heart. The group spent more time on her poem than mine– and I admit, I was jealous.

She gave us more to chew on. Mine was more stylized– so specific. There was a bit of ambiguity, but not really enough. I was very happy to hear that everyone could relate to it, and my experience was more universal than I expected. One person made a suggestion about the ending– about how it would be stronger with a specific image.

In the past, I would have dismissed her constructive criticism. But I think she’s right. I’m going to be open to change. I’m going to spend a little more time on it, and work on a strong image to end it with a punch.

I need to learn to write like a beginner. Without being obsessed with structure and style and meter.

Sometimes being a veteran is a disadvantage.

I’m going to reconnect with the WONDER of language, not just the control of it.