When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.
I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.
On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,
For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.
I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.
So I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.
When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was thankful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.
All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.
And even if it is just for one moment,
I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.
I am not a poet. Sometimes, I wish I could be. Poets have a way of making you feel things. This semester, side by side with my workshop, I’ve been taking a poetry seminar with people who have inspired me more than all the submissions to workshop have, combined – and trust me, that’s saying something. My fellow Elaine Equi classmates dazzle with brilliance – in the cliffs created by their line breaks, the staccato of their stanzas, in the beats that beat in the spaces they carefully place between words. They made me appreciate poetry as painting, poetry as imagination, poetry as music, poetry as the truth behind the phrase “read between the lines”. They taught me that you can create that in-between space. I have discovered the scalpel with which poets write, watched them slice into paper and pare off thin scraps to carve a story underneath their words. What they leave behind is poignant and sharp and speaks with a voice familiar to stories, but starkly different.
I want to know how the brain must tick to know which words, when paired together or kept apart, will zip straight through muscle and bone to touch heart.
I didn’t think it was a skill I could capture. Don’t get me wrong – fiction can be beautiful. It can be evocative. But like everything else in life writing lives within boundaries of genre, and a fiction writer cannot also call her stories poetry. Or so I thought. What this class has been accomplishing is the breaking of those limitations, those walls we have placed in art – between poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. It has been all-accepting, a fact that Yoko Ono would be proud of. It has made me understand that when one says that there is a story that must be told, that story can take the form of anything and everything at once.
Why write with restrictions? Why limit creativity? Especially when any rules we follow are ones we have written for ourselves? I can’t say I’ve found another one of Adam’s ribs to fashion into something as special as woman, but I hope that by understanding that there are no barriers I will be able to better tell the stories I need to tell and create art that breathes as life.
the brooks bubble again
sweat beads lace round
necksnnecks heady with jazz
necksnmints circlets and braids loop
necksnthrough rivers of hair
sweet sense is slumbering today
haloed hazy summurmurs
necksntrails laughter tumbles
necksnroses weave crowns
he was after my nature she said
so I made nails bloom
necksnflowers in stone
necksnrooted leaves in toes
necksnmarbled myself cried Amontillado
what marvel is this?
necksnmade clouds fly
necksnfelled Earth crying
who would run away from paradise?
odes could be written about
the way summer died
they’ll think we were dancing
A fellow writer friend of mine in the MFA program shared, a little churlishly, that he “takes this program like it is life or death.” He shared it as if it was a little ridiculous to do so, like he was doing something wrong. It does feel that serious often; just as often, I too feel silly for taking it that seriously – because there are worse things than someone saying what you wrote is only okay, that it didn’t really touch them. Just have a drink and write another draft, it’ll work out at some point.
But that’s too casual a way to look at it, at least for me. I can’t be “chill.” I’ve been told that I’m silly for holding on to the criticisms, that I should just let them go. And sure, don’t let the critics debilitate you – but you shouldn’t shake it all off. You should let it mold you; you should understand exactly what they’re saying and what they want and see if it’s helping you be the writer that you want to be. This life isn’t some fling; I want to tell a story whose sum is more than its parts. I can’t be the writer I want to be if I am so blasé about the outcome. In the past two weeks I have understood that I can and will and want to push myself hard. I want to get to the truth of something in my stories, probably a little past reason. To do that, I need to let go of the fear that I won’t be able to find that truth.
Ultimately, a writing program is just another a tool – not a guarantee. It’s there to give you some structure and to help you find people who are as crazy as you are, or who will ground you; either way, you will find people you trust. It’s there to help you decide what kind of writer you want to be. But showing up doesn’t guarantee growth. I don’t know if being a writer is an innate skill; for me, it isn’t. The moment I think it is – the moment I think I have learned all there is to learn, that I’m done, I will stop growing. That will be my peak, and it’s much too early for that. I have a love of language and books and stories and characters, but writing stories that live outside the page is a skill I have to work hard to develop.
More often than not, it’s your heart you’re laying out on the table when you share something you’ve created. I think it’s important to take that seriously. I think it’s important to care, and you shouldn’t feel ridiculous when you do.