I’m Scared of Poetry! Help!

Some of you know that poetry is relatively new to me. In fact, I began to write poetry consistently just before I applied to the Creative Writing track. In other words, I wasn’t even expecting to be accepted into this workshop. Yet, in the few weeks that I’ve had workshop with you beautiful people, I find myself discovering more about my own particular voice by analyzing everyone else’s. I specialize in Fiction, and for most of my life I’ve been developing my voice in my short story writing. I’ve come to a complete halt now, resting with the techniques of Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, and Cormac McCarthy. Yet, my voice in my poetry is completely different. I like to be wordy and abstract in my poetry. I like to play with margins and line-breaks (something I’ve never done before this class). Yet, for some reason poetry still confuses and scares me. I can’t wrap my head around poetic interpretation and understanding which has recently affected my urge to verbally participate in workshop. Is my interpretation of so-and-so’s piece valid? Will I look stupid? Are the suggestions of an amateur even worthy of recognition? In my years of reading and writing fiction I’ve noticed a pattern in a majority of works: A produces B, and in turn B produces C. This is the natural flow of prose writing if you think of “A” as the beginning, “B” as the middle, and “C” as the conclusion. Yet, poetry can completely break free from these rules. In poetry time and space don’t necessarily have to be defined. And this renunciation of the rules of short story writing that I’m all too accustomed with scares the shit out of me. A short story about a boy riding his bike to the corner store sounds simple, but with added parallelism and metaphors the story will become well defined; the interpretation can be made obvious. Yet one poem can mean a thousand things to a thousand people. Then again, I could be completely wrong about everything I’ve just said. In any case, I need everyone’s help! Help me to not be scared of poetry anymore!!!!!!

6 Replies to “I’m Scared of Poetry! Help!”

  1. Hey Jason,

    I’m in the same boat as you, and I share your fears and frustrations. The lack of causation in many poems, coupled with esoteric language and knowledge makes reading and writing poetry a completely different animal than prose, but I’m enjoying discovering my own ways of doing it. And I’m glad you made this honest post because it quells my fears a bit, simply knowing that I’m not the only one. That being said, you are a strong poet, and I look forward to discussing your most recent poem in class tomorrow. Believe in yourself, and I’ll try to follow my own advice as well!

  2. I agree with Ethan–you are a strong poet (sorry for the pounce after fiction class last Friday where I fangirled about your workshop poem for tomorrow). I remember freaking out about the same thing last fall when I took my first poetry workshop & being like “I HAVE NOTHING TO CONTRIBUTE AHH.” But just like with fiction, it takes practice & observation! One of the nice things about poetry is that you can interpret so many different things from one poem (thinking about Savannah’s most recent poem). The more ideas, the better. Don’t be afraid to participate–I’m eager to hear your ideas/commentary! 🙂

  3. Jason I loved how honest you were here! I totally understand what you mean. I too am new to poetry, and it’s truly scary at times! You’re so right there are no rules, anything can (and will) happen. I think that it’s great that you’re trying out different ideas and ways to write poems. I’ve also been trying out new things, and slowly but surely am finding my voice as well. I think that it was good that you wrote this blog post and vented out your frustrations, fears, and concerns. Every poem you have written so far though has been so unique and great! Maybe next time you’re faced with writing a new poem instead of thinking (if this makes sense), try and clear your mind and just write. See where the words and lines lead you. It makes the pressure fade away for a few moments. Good luck, and I cannot wait to read whatever else you’re going to write!

  4. Hey Jason!

    Poetry is so intimidating sometimes because it comes with memories of Shakespeare and Tennyson and all the “greats.” This might sound odd, but it helps to write and read silly poems, because they’re no less of a poem than everyone else’s, which makes all of poetry a bit more approachable. The same goes with finding your voice through writing poetry: sometimes it’s helpful to write something completely ridiculous just to see how it feels! Actually, one of my favorite poems is called “the Uncertainty of the Poet,” which you might be able to relate to (in a weird, abstract, poetry type way): http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/2004/04/uncertainty-of-poet-wendy-cope.html
    You really are such an amazing poet, so try not to get too discouraged. Hope this helps, and keep writing!

  5. J – thanks for the brave post. And I can begin by underscoring Amy’s fangirl response to your recent poem – yet, at the same time, you raise a linked but separate issue, the question of confidence when it comes to reading a poem.

    I find solace and reassurance in the idea that poetry is no more than and no less than language: what enables us to read any sentence authorizes us to read poetry. I hope this workshop is helping us to navigate line-breaks, but some of what we need to do that is there already: I am reading a sentence, and now wondering why there is white space in its midst.

    Another way of putting this is that we fear poetry often because we’re assuming there are rules we’re missing – some of that resistance emerged in my enthusiasm over the possibility of your poem as sonnet, for instance. But what matters is what we’re able to value and explain. If we see something, and can substantiate it, that’s a useful reading. It helps others read. The writing workshop asserts a centuries-old idea that texts are always read communally: even if you read alone, you are not the only reader reading that text.

    Yet a question about causality in your post also leads me to suggest Stephen Burt’s writing on the “Elliptical School” and also his take on how to “enjoy poetry”; the former will offer methods beyond causality, and the latter speaks directly to your post’s title!

  6. Hi Jay,
    I really liked the honesty of your post. I feel like I’ve been writing poetry a long time, but I didn’t feel like I had an “understanding” of poetry until I took Poetry I last fall. Even then I got through that entire workshop and I had improved immensely, but I still struggled to find constructive things to say about people’s poems in workshop. I still have a hard time making comments in workshop, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Almost every time I speak there’s a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “What if I’m the only one that felt this way?–What if everyone thinks that’s a stupid suggestion?–What if I can’t articulate what I want to say in a valuable way?” This last question is especially hard for me.
    So here’s a secret I’ve discovered/been discovering over this semester and my last poetry workshop: as long as you read poetry honestly and carefully, then you have a valid reading that deserves a voice. That’s why it seems like everyone has different readings, because literature is a conversation and we bring our own experiences to a poem when we face it.
    I just want you to know that your poems are incredibly strong. I love your poetic voice and imagery! It’s okay to be uncomfortable–I get insanely nervous every time I get workshopped. If you read the poems honestly and carefully than I don’t think you can be wrong. You have valid things to say in a workshop, and it would be great to see you speak up more if you’re comfortable. I have to work on it every time we have class. As a rule I set for myself, I force myself to contribute at least one comment for every poem workshopped. If you want to try that technique, that sort of personal ultimatum really helped. Another way to comment more is to make sure you write good, constructive comments on the workshop paper and as we’re workshopping keep checking those notes you wrote and raise your hand if one of them is relevant–chances are somebody wrote something similar!
    I hope all these comments have helped you see that everyone’s nervous, but workshop is a safe space. We’re lucky we get to share this space together, so let’s take advantage of it! As far as your work so far this semester, keep doing what you’re doing, you’re a rockstar! 😀

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