I can walk in other people’s shoes, but I think it’s wrong to write in them

I’ve always felt confident as a writer, but I would never call myself a poet. I’m creative, but my comfort zone lies within critical analysis and doesn’t dare cross over into artistic territory. In order to write freely or write about my feelings, I have to be fuming with happiness or anger. Oddly enough, the past two years of my life have been the most emotionally dynamic; and yet, I refrain from putting my personal thoughts to paper out of sheer embarrassment. I rarely physically document my sentiment, but I constantly express my stories through verbal words.

My whole life I’ve been simultaneously praised and criticized as a storyteller. I tell stories a lot, usually imprisoning my unsuspecting audience. By drawing out my tales in long, loquacious bouts as to communicate my tale in the most detailed, it’s-almost-as-if-you-were-there manner, I either win or lose audience approval. It’s usually too much for my readers or listeners, who urge me to “hurry up already,” but do they ever misunderstand or question the events I just presented to them? Never. I find that when I have to be poetic, I wince at the task of writing something that will be construed into different interpretations from others.

Thus, the small handful of poems that I’ve written come from real life events that I experience, witness or observe. Stories. I’ve never been able to gather inspiration from others’ experiences or feelings, be it from a book, play or from the point of view of my best friend or mother. When I encounter a moment that inspires me, I almost immediately scribble down a list of the event. What happened? Where was it? Who was it with? How did I feel then? How do I feel now? Two examples formed the heart of my last two poems:

1- During break I had a nurse butcher my arm while attempting to draw my blood. I fainted. I wrote a poem about my incident, which referenced my fear of, as a woman, being denied rights over my own body.

2- I’m stupidly in love right now. One time I was looking into my boy friend’s ear and I got very caught up in the cartilage and how it curves and pools like cake batter. I then wrote a poem about love and honey.

So, I know I can narrate stories and present ideas whether I’m compelled to write fiction or non-fiction. However, when it comes to poetry, I struggle to write abstractly. I can read the poetry of Plath and Dickinson and fixate over it, but I have not been able to recreate or embrace their lyrical, metaphorical darkness for the life of me. I think if I had to categorize my creative writing, I would clarify it as prose, not poetry. As a result, my inspiration has only stemmed from my own physical and mental interactions with people. I feel cut off from music, art, and the lives of everyone else.

2 Replies to “I can walk in other people’s shoes, but I think it’s wrong to write in them”

  1. Hi Allison!
    I’m interested by what you have here! You call yourself a storyteller–how often do you write prose/fiction? I like how you compare oral story telling to poetic narrative–I’m excited to see how you tell stories in your poetry. Over winter break I taught at my high school’s Second Annual Poetry Invitational, and the topic I taught was “Narrative & Nature”–how do we use natural imagery to tell a story? Maybe you could use that as an idea for another piece.
    I am also inspired to write about things happening to/around me. I constantly find myself typing random notes into my phone, only to wonder why I put it there in the first place. Even if I can’t remember how it got there, it’s a nice starting point for when I’m stuck.
    You say you can’t recreate Plath/Dickinson’s “metaphorical darkness”. Just because you appreciate their style doesn’t mean you have to recreate it; mimicking others’ writing styles can be great for poetic improvement, but I think it’s important to look at your work at YOUR own.
    I’m excited to read your poetry!

  2. Prose and poetry, first thing I think of: Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski. Read it, love the themes of life and people, be warned of the misogyny … because there’s misogyny.. great poet. Shitty guy.

    Struggling with the abstract, but wanting to write about people… I’m going to recommend the movie Don’s Plumb (it’s on Youtube somewhere and has DiCaprio and that dude from Spider man). It’s just these 20-something-yr-olds at an all night dinner talking about whatever it is 20-something-year-olds talk about. There’s no real plot which makes it somewhat abstract, but the mundane ordinariness of their lives is… painfully relatable and tangible to the viewer.

    I’m also going to recommend a podcast for you called stufftheydontwantyoutoknow. I feel like every writer could use some conspiracy theory in their lives, and since you mentioned you have trouble gathering inspiration from people and literature and movies, maybe some old fashioned, the government it totally watching us through our laptop camera and probably planning human experiments on us will do just the trick. If nothing else, it’s just a fun podcast that more people need to like.

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