I’ve been thinking about my last workshop piece. It felt like two poems stitched together, and that’s because it was. I lean heavily on certain aesthetics and imagery we all already know I have a soft spot for, and I keep trying to use them as a crutch or disguise to talk about other things that, if I’m frank, I don’t always want to talk about.
Something we’ve struggled with this semester, both as peers in our workshop commentary and in relation to our own work, is separating the poet from the poem. We talked in class about ‘fudging the truth’, how once something becomes a poem, it should not, and cannot, try to be completely truthful and authentic to the poet’s reality.
I don’t have a problem with that; even in the middle of writing it, I could tell my most recent poem was veering away from its origins in my real-life experiences, and that’s okay. I’m left with this dilemma, however, one that I feel I have very often, where my writing seems to be trying to say something, but I don’t know what that something is.
I’m excited to work on it, but find myself at a loss. When I manage to write something I do like, I often feel as though my writing is cleverer than I am. So I’m left with this, a half-formed amalgamation of things, ideas stitched together, that’s taken on a life of its own.
How do you wrangle your Frankenstein’s monster?
“the em dash is a people pleaser and will not turn down any of your numerous requests to use it even when its presence is not needed which is why you must be the adult in that relationship”
At twenty-one years old I’ve yet to send a single email that took me less than fifteen minutes to write.
After shooting off a careless email (because I’m tired and I have things to do) I sit, bleary eyed and full of regret. I’m looking at the redundant mess of a sentence that I, an alleged writer, have created. I’ve made an abomination of the English language
It’s irretrievable, of course, already sitting in their inbox. This is the future of communication! It’s not like I have four weeks to agonize over its transit via Pony Express. It’s been half an hour and I’m still thinking about it, how this is the only representation of myself I have given to another human being, who I have not met. This is all they know about me.
This is what happens when I don’t agonize over what I’m doing, apparently.
My usual email-writing process goes like this: write a list of the things I need to say and/or ask. Write a sentence or two for each item. Make sure to make a new line when I change subject so that it’s easy to read at a glance. Figure out what an appropriate salutation to use – do I Ms. or Mr. them? Can I use their first name? ‘To whom it may concern’? Does anyone really start emails with ‘Dear,’? I check to make sure I’ve spelled their name correctly. I check again. Rearrange sentences. Make sure it still makes sense after I’ve re-arranged it. Spell-check again, because I’m still a sloppy typer. How do I thank them for their time? Am I supposed to have a professional looking email signature? I should really get on that. Read it out loud. Should I thank them again or will it be too much? Never settle on what closing sounds the least stilted – ‘Sincerely’? ‘Best’? Or is just ‘Thanks’ fine?
Give or take a few steps depending on how much I want the recipient to like me.
It’s honestly not unlike how I write in general. I double-check lines and phrases as I write them and lose steam because I should have just thrown down something, anything to get the feeling out (I think that’s why I write shorter poems – and even then I get the same feedback, that I start strong and peter out around the end). Even after all this time listening to folks expounding the importance of revision, I’m stuck with the idea that becoming a good writer, a good poet, means that someday I’ll be able to transmute things directly from brain to page in perfect form, divine inspiration-style, the first time around. It’s irrational, and can’t help but feel like it’s hurting me as a writer.
It’s something I don’t have a solution for, but I’ve been trying things out. I started in the biggest marker I have; sometimes I can’t fit more than a sentence on the page. The lines are ugly and not even close to poem-worthy, but it’s fast, ugly and satisfying. I’m going for quantity with these, not quality. There’s a specific kind of burnout I’m trying to avoid, where I sit on ideas with the intention of letting them stew, waiting until I find the best way to go about realizing them, only to lift the lid off the pot to find that they’ve boiled away to nothing.
There’s a lesson I’ve been trying to teach myself lately, one I’ve never quite managed to put into practice, both in writing and in life: something is better than nothing. Partial credit is better than not turning it in; showing up unprepared is better than not showing up at all. Trying is something. Something is better than nothing.
As you all know, our class shares a folder via Google Drive, and cached within are our writing exercises, all neatly tucked away in folders labeled with each poet’s name. Of course the point of all this is to share our work, so on some level it’s obvious – any one of you is free to see what I’ve been writing, and vice versa.
Yet I can’t help but feel like I’m snooping when I click on someone else’s folder. I feel weird even saying this, like I’m admitting to leafing through your diaries, even though I’m fairly certain that it’s allowed, and that I’m not the only one (please say I’m not the only one!) doing it.
So yes, I scroll through your weekly poems, see the different ways we interpret the prompts, notice who has more consistent style and whose one-off experiments are vastly different from what they submitted to workshop. At times I want to ask – why didn’t you bring this poem to the class? Did you ever come back to this piece? I want to know if you like the poems I like, or if you just wrote them to write them, to have something to turn in on time. There have been instances when a poem catches my eye, and I like it so much I want to grab the person responsible, and tell them – but many of you I don’t know so well, and we don’t really talk outside of class, so I lose my nerve. I wonder who will mind that I’ve been sticking my nose in things.
I think you all should know that sometimes, if I don’t know what to do with the week’s exercise, I check to see if any of you have done it in a timelier manner than I have, for inspiration. And, in my private poems (more private than those in a digital folder, the kind that live in a red notebook in my bag) I take your line breaks, your themes, images, the occasional, meaty two-or-three word phrase – and I try them on for size, like we do with the poems from the reader.
I don’t post them. But I do wonder how you feel about that.