Monday, October 24, 2016

The Problems with Poetry

When I get writer's block, I have drafts that have wonderful titles and nothing in them.  My draft board is filled with half finished thoughts which prove, I did write that day, I just didn't hit "Publish." These days, I have little time, so more half thoughts get started than finished.

The other thing I do when I feel as if I've said everything I can think of, and have nothing new to contribute that will either edify or amuse, is write poetry.   I don't like my poems as a rule for three reasons:

1) It's easy to write bad poetry.
2) It's easy to be pretentious about one's poetry.
3) I can hear in my head everytime I write a poem either my poetry teacher at Notre Dame saying, "We don't need to read her poems." or the Poet who visited Saint Mary's, saying, "I'm very surprised I almosts believed her poem."

Poetry is supposed to use form and words to create an indellible image in the mind, to engrave on the heart something that wouldn't be possible with prose.   Poetry uses active space in language, to create greater meaning in the language that does get used.   I tend to blather on, to cover the whole canvas with words, leaving little space for my poems to breathe.  See problem #1.

However I'm also protective about my poems in the same way any writer looks at their creation and thinks it beautiful.  See problem #2.

Problem #3 is the running tape in my head, which makes me highly supsicious of any praise of my poetry... because I know both problem #1 and problem #2 are real. Fortunately, I have a third teacher whose words also run through my head.

Die hard cub fan, Max at Saint Mary's remained a favorite all the years if only because despite being a poet, he could laugh at himself.  He laughed at me too, but I knew he didn't mean it except in the gentle way a professor might tease a student who needed to grow up a bit.   "Yes, but I'll never be as good as YEETS."  He wrote on the board.   A comment from some frustated student in the course of decades of teaching.   To which he quipped, "YEATS, no, Yeets, probably.  Now get back to writing."

The trick was to stop using everyone else as a yardstick, and learn what they did that worked and what they did that didn't, and apply all those lessons to the actual business of writing.   He taught us, be humble, and you can write whatever poem you like.

"That Max
pisses me off."

Possibly the most memorable poem in the semester began with these opening two lines. I can't remember the rest of it, but I honestly can't remember any of the other poems we read during that semester which proves since I didn't write those two lines, I probably made people suffer through #1 and #2, and legitimately helped foster the commentary listed in #3.   He laughed harder than anyone else at that poem, and taped it on his door. These were his lessons.  Wear your problem.  Bleed on the page. Laugh at yourself and recognize, much of what you write, is laughable.  

On top of that, he demanded, "Write until you stop thinking about what you will write, and just as a muscian will eventually be able to play a piece without looking, and a dancer to perform a whole routine without error, the words will flow and you'll only know after you write them, what they mean."  It sounded like nonsense.  It also sounded wonderful.    He made poetry something other than what depressed artsy sophsiticated people do, he made it fun.  

With all those lessons in mind, I give to you, today's poem, inspired by watching the students at my new job funnel out to the buses and cars waiting at dismissal.    

The Beauty We Cannot Yet See

It's three o'clock
and the students swarm out
all talking and walking,
so full of promise
some have already broken.

They stare at their phones,
at the ground,
at the sky
and anywhere at all
except each other.

Determined to remain
insulated and safe
in a crowd full of others
just as wary,
all just as full

of more beauty than we
or they imagine they can bear.
They are stars in the daylight
and every once in a while,
the veil lifts.

Revealing a glimmer
of what could be
of what should be
what would be.
It was always intended.

No comments:

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!