Sharing Poetry Is Caring

A while back, poet J.lynn Sheridan asked on her blog, Writing On The Sun, if poets did anything positive with our poetry in the past year. My knee jerk response was sure, of course. It kept me off the streets at night. I really mean this. Among other things, it keeps me from becoming a television boob, or taking up residence at the corner watering hole. Personally, both reading and writing poetry keeps me mentally agile, inquisitive, and gives me a focal point from which to see the world.

What else? What positives came out of my poetry last year?. Publicly, I’ve informally shared poems. I’ll reflected on poetry and words in general on this blog, passed along a few works in progress on my poetry blog, Fresh Bean Sprouts, and sent poems out to other poets and friends. I have not yet submitted a poem in a literary journal, something I plan doing this year. Until now I’ve never felt the necessity to submit poems. I am protective of my fragile inner space. I tremble at the idea of while composing I would succumb to a nagging whisper of a thought that a line or stanza might be changed to a certain journal’s liking. For me the greater challenge is not publishing but writing well. If someone might one day think a poem of mine is publishable that would be a bonus.

The question remains how can I know if I created anything positive? I recall a few of the bright days with others. One example occurred a few weeks ago. I read a short poem to my wife and my son. I had written a epigrammatic poem about our Pekinese’s regal manner. My wife smiled, said, “That’s nice. I like it.” My 17-year-old son, who prides himself on picking apart any idea, took issue with the poem’s claim that our dog had “views.” While the poem’s first reviews were mixed, the reading did result in a discussion of loyalty, poetic conceit, and freedom, which I consider a victory. The positive here was that my little creation got others, who do not normally read poetry, into a closer reading. They were confronted with a new creation that by its nature set off thoughts and feelings they would not have had otherwise. In its own way, this was a positive poetic event.

I can think of other positives. I wrote a short poem to a poet friend on Facebook in response to an artistic photo she posted. I was intrigued by the photo and inspired. She was tickled I wrote it and I think it served as validation for her burgeoning artistic skill with the camera. I write short poems on postcards and send them out via the Postcrossing Project, such as this one.

Today these few words
celebrate you and I
in a kind, kind of, embrace
half a world away.

I count these and others as positive points on my poetry scoreboard.

I also think of other’s poetry that I pass along. I do this all the time, sending poems to friends, family and acquaintances. It always gets a response, usually gratitude that I made the connection. All of us are astonished when we read another’s words that capture our thoughts or emotions so well, or lead us to new ways of seeing the world.

Returning to the purely personal, I can recount another positive. Every time I discover I cannot add (or subtract) anything to one of my poems, I make a hard copy and place it in my ‘ready for submission’ book. I know that I have created something I cannot improve on. This may take days, weeks, month, even years, but I know that I have put into it everything that I am. This gives me a sense of accomplishment, of triumph. Even if the poem should never be published until many years from now, even if panned by future critics, or even savored by only a few, either way I’m positive I’ve done all I can.

You can find my Pekinese poem here.

Next post: reading poetry to strangers in public.

Some questions from ‘Writing On The Sun’

Fellow blogger and poet, J.lynn Sheridan, recently wondered if poets make goals.

I know she knows the answer is: Yes, yes we do. Even though we might, for the sake of our sanity, hold these goals loosely in our hands the same way we hold form loosely when composing poetry, so that both serve, and neither one turns us into their slaves. We don’t want an established form or a niggling question to restrict us when the creative juices pour onto the page. (More on juicing and revision in future posts.)

I’m delighted J.lynn has provoked me and her readers into thinking about the ways we challenge and develop our art. (You can find her blog, and questions, here.) She made an extensive list of basic questions that challenge us. Any question is food for the hungry dogs of poetry but the self made poet sometimes rejects them as unbefitting a “poets” life. Yet, if the cocksure poet sitting at a trendy cafe, sipping latte, can remove their tilted cap and don something other than black turtlenecks, they may have a chance to use such questions as a way to prod and cajole themselves toward generating interesting and significant art. Assuming you are not a vegetable, several of these questions should spur you on to more thoughtfulness in our writing life. Thank you J.lynn for bringing some tough love from your bright sun.

Java Monkey cafe in Atlanta

Scanning J.lynn’s questions I realized three things right away. One, that considering any one of these could burn up a fair amount wood inside my cranium, and two, I could use a reality check, and three, the questions could be used as prompts for blog posts. Seeing that I neglected my blog for nearly a year now, I decided to burn a few sticks of woody thought on, say, one of her questions each month. It would be a fine way of inquiring, expressing, and sharing the current shape of my writing life.

Next post: Can anything good come from looking in the rear view mirror?