10 Things War Can Cure
7. Lagging gun sales.
10. Writer's block.
Am I even a poet anymore?
One thing people don't talk much about with a breakthrough case of COVID, especially if during your illness, you're trying to isolate from the rest of your household, is the depression. Fortunately, after the end of the prescribed quarantine, most of those dark thoughts dissipated for me. But one lingered: am I even a poet anymore?
I believe there are some people who sincerely feel that. I'm not one of them.
I write because it is fun, or because I need a vehicle to share my words and ideas and thoughts. I write poetry to communicate in a way I normally wouldn't, with people who normally wouldn't hear what I have to communicate.
But it's been a while since I've felt that I had much to communicate, that was not already being said elsewhere, more eloquently, and with more urgency. Over the past year, or two...or ...three? I've written a few poems, but most of them were an assignment of one kind or another. I've done very little recent writing that wasn't to submit on a specific topic, or to any other call to which I felt obligated--even if that obligation was only to myself. I haven't written just because I had something to write. And so this pervasive, "Am I even a poet anymore?" has been bothering me. Can I be a poet who doesn't poem?
I know a lot of people have strange reservations and feelings about self-labeling as a poet. I once encountered someone at an open mic reading who told me he couldn't call himself a "poet" unless he was doing it to make a living. Some people worry that the word "poet" is too precious, that calling yourself a poet is hubris, that calling yourself a poet is an act of holier-than-thou.
None of that baggage around the "poet" label ever bothered me. A poet is someone who writes poems. But can I still be a poet if I haven't been writing poems?
Then about a week ago, I found myself giving two readings within a few days of each other. The first was part of the Poetic Inventory of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is a beautiful project seeking to collect poems for every plant, animal, and insect species native to the CVNP. I felt relieved to be reading with other poets again, hearing this inspiring collection of voices. I encourage everyone to check out this project.
Then I had the joy of reading virtually for Jonie McIntire's Uncloistered Poetry out of Toledo. It felt so good to be putting my words into the world again.
And after all of that, I'm starting to feel, that, yes, I am a poet. Again. Maybe.
I still haven't felt pushed to return to the page, just yet. But I did feel an impetus to return here to this space. That is a start. And I will accept it as a little gift from the muse.
Thank you, friends. Life, love, and light. - TGB
I think that's part of my problem. Going somewhere requires a tiny bit of planning. I'm going to a reading on Tuesday night, so I look up directions for the venue ahead of time, plan to eat dinner early, and pick out something cute to wear. I'm going to the baseball game this weekend, so I need to decide if I need to bring a hoodie or a rain poncho, which shoes will be best, figure out where the good parking lots are, and decide if I'm eating before the game or at the game.
Real, in person events require a little forethought, a little planning, and with it, a little anticipation.
I know that complaining about access to too much is a stupidly-privileged, first-world problem. But it reflects what I think most of us miss: the connection of being physically present somewhere.
I don't believe we are a people meant to only interact with the rest of the world inside the equivalent of a video game. I don't think virtual events will every leave us again, but I sincerely hope they don't need to become a permanent substitute for the real the thing. They're great as something extra, but they shouldn't be our only. We're physical beings in a physical world. I hope we can all safely return to that world soon.
Stay safe, wear your masks, keep your distance, get your vaccines. We're so close, friends. We're so very close.
That is why, a few months ago, I decided I would no longer waste my words on a conversation, written or otherwise, with someone who refuses to give
me the same careful consideration I try to give my own interactions with
others. My time is too precious. My energy is too precious. My life is
I know for a fact that a well-written and supported opinion matters. My parents would never consider themselves activists, but they are the kinds of people who would write a strongly-worded letter to the newspaper or a politician about issues important to them. Before we had a computer, my mom would set up the electric typewriter and copy out a handwritten missive. I internalized that power of the written word, and started writing letters to City Council and the school board by the time I was in high school. I have always believed in the power of the written word as a way to express myself, confide in others, impart my experiences, and sway opinions.
But the truth is that if engaging with someone is consuming so much of my time and mental bandwidth that I can't find the space for myself, and then that person won't give my words the same respect I'm giving theirs, it's not worth it.
People have often told me this, but I couldn't internalize it until my thoughts of impending mortality made me realize that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life that way: frustrated, consumed, and trying to find just the right way to make one more point.
It's not worth it.
My time is worth more. My life is worth more. My joy is worth more.
My words are worth more.
Thinking about writing poems is not writing poems.
Just write the poems!
Why don't you like my poem? No one wants to print my poems! Don't you feel bad for me? I'm doing everything right! So why not? WHY?? Why don't you like me? WAAA-HIIIII-YYYYY??!!
I know, I know...
To the credit of the editor, I remember that he or she actually responded with a very polite sort of, "This poem just didn't fit in this issue."
I learned two things from that experience. While I didn't necessarily articulate these lessons to myself in so many words, I definitely intuited them.
Moral #1: Respect the editor (or the judge, the organizer, the emcee). Badgering editors with an argument about your brilliance (or pitifulness) isn't going to change their minds. Complain to your friends, commiserate with other artists, but leave the editors alone. Rejection is part of the territory. If you don't like it, as my husband would say, "Write better poems."
Moral #2: Ask the right questions.
Or rather, ask the questions that place the responsibility on the correct person.
My Lament of the Rejected was a way of blaming the editor (they just don't like me, that's why I got rejected) instead of me (what did I do wrong here and what can I do better?). And sometimes a writer does nothing wrong other than putting a poem in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not every poem will be accepted. No publication is obligated to accept me.
When I say ask the right questions, the questions need to be less like, "Why won't people buy my books?" and more like, "Where do I need to go to find my audience?"
Less like, "Why didn't this publication want my poem?" and more like, "Where do I find publications printing poems like mine?"
And the worst part of Moral #2 is that it's a whole heckuva lot more work than pouting. I'm still learning. I still do my fair share of pouting. Maybe that will come in year 16...
To everyone who supported No Frackin' Akron--Thank you!