Joyful Detour

I wrote a lot of poetry when I was young. I’d scribble something in a spiral notebook during homeroom, and then I’d tweak it for the rest of the school day. Cross out lines here in history. Substitute a word there in math. By the three o’clock bell, I’d have a tidy little poem. There was something about picking out just the right words to capture some little truth that felt right to me.

In jr. high I won some contest (I have no idea what it was… my evil English teacher submitted one of my poems without my say so), and I submitted a few to my school’s literary magazine. The feedback I received was positive (and I’m including the incident when someone plagiarized one of my poems–it’s got to be a form of flattery, no?), and I was feeling pretty good about poetry. That all changed when I became a writing major in college.

In college I learned, with time and diligent practice, just how much my poetry sucked. I could get three poems going in a week on my own, but when it came to specific assignments in specific poetic forms, I couldn’t find my voice.

My poetry wasn’t as horrifying as my one attempt at children’s literature (apparently, a four year old protagonist who resigns himself to a serious lack of attention from his long-suffering but cold mother is “too dark” for children’s lit), but it wasn’t pretty, either. The language was stilted. The poems would meet the assignment requirements without capturing anything poignant or real. Disheartened, I walked away from poetry.

For the last couple of years, however, my interest in poetry seems to have crept back in. I credit our school’s participation in the Poetry Out Loud competition somewhat. To get my students excited about reciting poetry, I’ve shown them footage from previous competitions and other examples of spoken word poetry, and had them write their own poems, assignments I always attempt myself… it seems fair.

While the exposure to poetry has hooked only a handful of students (and by that I mean that they still maintain an interest in poetry outside the classroom), it’s most certainly sunk its hooks in me. I moved from just reading and watching spoken word performances to writing my own again, even memorizing a couple of them, and it feels just like it did years ago: real. It’s like my poetic pilot light’s been re-lit.

Of course, I still suspect that while my poetry resonates with me, it isn’t necessarily good in any objective sense, so I’ve kept my poems mostly to myself.  Imagine my shock, then, when the poem I hesitantly posted last month (“It’s Painful to Watch You Sometimes“) got more hits and more praise than anything else I’ve posted. The same happened with “There is Risk Here.” I look at my blog stats and just giggle. Apparently the little bits of truth I try to encapsulate in my poems resonate a bit with others, too.  It’s been an unexpected and joyful detour in my writing journey.

The focus and bulk of my writing is still prose (mostly creative nonfiction with a little short fiction thrown in) but it feels good to be friends with poetry again. So while it feels right, I’m going to keep this poetry thing going for a while. I hope my readers like it. I know I do, and this time I’m not letting anyone talk me out of it.

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