Poetry is my Life
Suicide is, of course, the opposite of a poem.
Poetry is one of the only art forms that people seem to think anyone can do. You would never be allowed to perform in a musical if you had not proven that you could sing; a band is not going to hire you to play guitar just because your friends or parents think your guitar playing is good; a gallery is not going to show your art just because you were “honest” while you were painting it; and a publishing house is not going to publish your novel just because you really put your heart into it. Why is it that the general opinion among some poets is that just the act of writing something on paper is enough to make you a poet worthy of being a featured reader or a published poet?
I started writing when I was in grammar school. I always jokingly say that my mother belonged to the “religion of the month” club. She was a 60s baby and was still searching in the 70s, 80s and as far as I know she still searches. Because of her searching, what I was denied in regular family living was made up for by the piles of books in our house. Religious poetry, both Eastern and Western was always around the house. The work of the Bible and the Upanishads along with Robert Frost and Rod McKuen, the popular poets of the day, were my introduction to poetry.
This is the way I learned to speak of the unspeakable feelings bouncing around inside my head and my heart by reading the works of those who had come before me. Poetry became my way of journaling, praying, questioning and crying out into the wilderness of my hometown of Los Angeles. I learned to use poetry as a frame for my processing of my life, and it was through reading the work of others that I learned to fill the frame with art.
After a while of putting my poorly crafted, yet heartfelt thoughts into a journal or two I decided to come out and share my work with others. I was lucky and people were kind and pointed me in the direction of workshops and good books to read. I wish everyone who wants to become a better poet such luck, and I wish that everyone wanted to become a better poet. When I say that I’m not being condescending.
I had the great honor to be a student at Idyllwild when Gallway Kinnell and Sharon Olds were there and the best things I heard from them were about constantly rewriting and, specifically from Kinnell, that he never felt his work was finished because he knew it could be better. He has just released a book full of old poems he had reedited. It reinforced my belief that no matter how good a poet you are, you can always be better.
Anyone who knows me knows I believe that to be a truly good poet you must read poetry of all kinds, not just the kind you like, and for the love of all that is holy, not just your friends poetry. The term “poetry” is up for discussion, argument and a long trip with good friends, and this little bit of opinion is just that: opinion.
It is my opinion that poetry is definable and that good poetry is not created in a void. I think there are good poets and bad poets. I know this can be an unpopular opinion, but anyone who knows me knows I really don’t care about being popular. If it’s any consolation to those who find my opinion harsh, I am guilty of writing bad poetry and things I consider “not poetry” too, I just have the good sense not to send it away to publishers or read it to my audience because poetry you read for an audience and seek to have published should not be about your therapy issues, unless of course you have crafted your issues into poetry.
Poetry is two-fold for me: on one hand it is a way to put your feelings and thoughts into words that sound good to you or may help you work thorough a difficult time in your life; on the other it is a carefully thought out and constructed set of words that relate your thoughts and feelings on a universal level and while one is for public consumption, the other is certainly not. Just my opinion.
So the $64 poetry question is why do you write poetry?
Do you write because you have things you want to say and are looking for an audience and poetry is generally free to read and write? Or, do you write because you consider it a craft in which you strive discuss feelings, thoughts and opinions in a way that transcends self-indulgence and becomes something universal? Are you a poet or a poet wanna be?
I’m not saying that journaling thoughts and feelings is bad or that a little self-indulgence isn’t called for sometimes. I do believe that the state of poetry is threatened on a daily basis by mediocrity. By that I don’t mean threatened by styles of poetry like slam, page, performance and the like, I mean by works within these styles that are not striving to be the best they can be made by poets who don’t have enough respect for the craft of poetry. I wish more people would start believing that poetry matters, that it is an art form and that it needs skill to create.
I found the quote from Anne Sexton while I was reading through some of her interviews and it has become the foundation of my reason for writing and in a way for continuing to live rather than give up. Not the philosophical reason, but the reason that resides in the pulse of my blood, the firing of the neurons, and the beating of my heart. It is the reason that lives in the core of my existence. Of course Sexton eventually took her life and there were no more poems ultimately proving her point. Morbidity aside it’s the basic idea I love, that as a poet, if you do not write you are committing suicide, but I would take it one step further and say that everyday you do not strive to improve your writing you are committing a slow form of suicide, leading not only to the slow death of your artistic self, but also the life of the craft itself.