It was less than a month ago that I found myself shouting to the world on Facebook that I was “done with poetry”. I’m uncertain if I have ever uttered such damning words before, but as soon as they left my mouth the confidence of their proclamation began to eat away at my assertion that I was truly “done”.
As is evidenced, here on this blog, I had a flurry of activity within the last few days. I wrote a few pieces and began to see a slightly renewed interest in poetics. Perhaps it is because my small press is about to publish its first Chapbook, or perhaps there was something a little more sinister and sublime at work. You see, I’ve never been a “good writer” by any working standards. I have always felt somewhat similar to a sentiment exclaimed by Elizabeth Bishop that (and I paraphrase because I cannot find the quote) she writes because she writes, not out of any sort of intentional “work”.
I look back at my own writing and can see a distinct pattern. In fact, this pattern has been apparent to me for years, at this point. When I was young, I produced maybe ten pages of poetry a day, and was left with, perhaps, one or two pages of useful material. Once I graduated high school and began, over the next couple of years, what I consider my “mature” writing, I was producing, perhaps, ten pages a week of which, perhaps, eight or nine pages I’d consider to be “useful material”. There was a stead decline in my output correlating to a healthy increase in the quality of work composed. I like to believe that I was beginning to learn how to listen and how to unconsciously ruminate over words before I spat them onto a page. Part of this was, I suspect, a distinct loss of writing time. When I was attending my undergrad I could no longer use class time for writing, and my writing had almost always, until that point, been composed in a busy room. I needed the hum of sound that I could safety tuck away; I required a reassurance that I was not retreating into some hermetic, cut off world devoid of any but my own self.
I am at the point, now, a decade after beginning the path to becoming a “poet”–a path that I still struggle in self-identifying with–I find that I produce, at most a handful of pages a month. This seems complicated by my own consternation over the objective nature of poetry. I struggle with the practical, contemporary (to a certain degree unspoken) concept that poetry is subjective. I have never felt this way, and I have never written under any other such set of conditions.
Poetry that, as a dear friend describes, records “the emotional history of our time” has always struck me as a quick exit from the pressing issues of poetry in the 21st century. Though I’ll decline to extrapolate much further on this idea, I have always created words as a means of idealization. My life is uninteresting. The life of the mind, and the exploration of beauty has been my only concern. Neither of these are truly “accessible” in any means.
In any case, I always wrote because that’s what I did: I wrote. Poems welled up inside of me and they wormed their way out in bursts and falls. All of my writer friends have always encouraged me to take an hour of every day to “practice” writing. I have tried this, unsuccessfully, and have always found it to mean that I lose an hour of my day to staring at blank pages or creating words which are destined to be tossed aside. The momentary moment of inspiration, when something simply wells up inside of me, is my first and only approach to writing. I write when I need to write, and, back to Elizabeth Bishop, the moment I stop writing is the moment I no longer need to write.
I have been flirting with this void for a number of years now, and I seem to write too infrequently to have any sort of confidence to call myself a “poet”. When introduced at events and to poets I prefer to call myself a “publisher” or, if I’m feeling self-generous, as an “artist whose medium is language”. Pretentious statements aside, poetry builds up and overflows. It is a mental defense mechanism, of sorts. I have never been a disciplined writer, no matter how I try, and I cannot escape the “muse”-aspect of poetry. When the desire and necessity to write comes to a head, I write. While Bishop rued the day that she would no longer be compelled to write, I face that fear. The largest part of my identity has slowly and gradually slipped from myself.
I truly wonder if there are others (and of course there are) whose methodology in writing were similar to mine. I know that Bishop is in my camp, though the differences are stark and do not speak to reality as she never did, in fact, feel any major decline in output.