Why Writing Poetry is NOT Like Birthing a Real Baby

The metaphor works. I’ve often used it myself as a sort of crutch device to explain the writer’s life to non-writers. I sometimes refer to my finished poems as my babies.

My poems, which are mostly not confessional in the technical, poetic sense of the term, do have my DNA smeared all over them. Poems are “birthed” in a sense. Read Sylvia Plath. When I read her poems I feel I am a midwife-in-training or sometimes a helpless bystander as she spreads and stuns me with words.

But while I totally “get” the metaphor and contribute to its legitimacy myself, I think it is most helpful to me to remember that writing poetry is in many ways NOT the same experience as actual childbirth and parenting. Poetry is not rocket science either. It’s not the cure for actual cancer, just looming invisible cancers of thought perhaps, crises of belief perhaps. For me, poetry is as physically essential as eating and sleeping, yet I think that many of us who are teachers, plumbers, stock brokers, pastors, salesmen could claim the same enrichment in our lives from pursuing the work we were created to pursue.

Poets aren’t special or closer to the birthing experience than other people are. We remember the smells, the sounds, the lights that were too bright, the faded yellow floral print on the rocker-recliner that our husbands slept on. We might have more aptly named the fear we felt as our own bodies lifted out of themselves and delivered a son or a daughter. But we are as tied to the communal nature of most of our actual life experiences as bakers of cupcakes or sweepers of streets are.

And the work that we do, is more like, well, actual work, than it is a mountaintop threshold of pain or joy. It’s a work that teems with insignificance and the ever-dwindling audience. Insignificance is not the same thing as lack of confidence. Through insignificance I find my true attachments in this life, my place. And the rejection slips are easier to stomach, because, these word-wields on the page are not actually me, nor are they actually my children. In a small way they are, yet in a much vaster way they are not. They are poems. Artifacts of work that I choose to do. They don’t feed people or make them happier (except perhaps momentarily). Knowing this frees me up to write, to work. To exist in relationship with myself in a field of interdependence. To determine when I must hit the DELETE button or start over.

Poets blur lines that most people would prefer to just keep in-tact. Sometimes it is healthy to forego the meta-metaphor and search for the less significant but more impactful grit of accurate perspective. Writers, we are people, too. We must remember to keep ourselves complex, complicated, and diversified. Without writing, I don’t feel that I live a complete life, but without a life, I don’t feel I have much to offer the blank page before me. We can, as poets, be just like everyone else. We can think we should have it all….and passionate kisses…as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang….and fleshy babies…who need more than our words.

Christmas Tree Time

I always get my writer-feathers ruffled a bit as I read through the posts generated this time of year about time management. I’m a poet. I am in the timelessness business. I consider myself an organized person. My house is almost always ready for company and on a quite regular basis, I’ve been known to throw together a home-cooked meal. True…I live in yoga pants, but when the occasion arises, I clean up nicely. I run errands with the best of them. I also run half marathons.

What is different about poets, I believe, at least it is true of this poet, is that I no longer check off items on a to-do list as though they are life-altering accomplishments. After all, Hamlet never said: To do or not to do…that is the question… Creativity needs nesting time. Sitting still time. Turning off the lights and staring at the Christmas tree time. Quiet time.

I am always amazed at how noisy Christians are when it comes to our hustling and bustling about the proper ways we must observe this holiday.  We prize our indwelling, yet we pretend that a holy spirit wants to shout at us, to compete with our restrictions, to channel within the narrow confines of a Daytimer. We ink in our lives in a little square and these self-made appointments become the gospel of this day that the Lord has made. The question I ask is: Is the holy spirit truly glad in it?

As a Christian, as a writer, I find that I am always working toward rest. I am after the Sabbath. If you shake my hand during greeting time and I bombard you with 100 cookie types, or my 101 uses for a homeless person, or the abecederian prayer request pinned on the underside of my Christmas sweater, or the phone pic of me freezing my little Christmas tooshie off caroling off-key to nursing home hostages, be assured, my holy spirit–the part that lives and breathes uniquely through me–is taking a sound nap and I am totally faking it.

Authentically, I don’t really DO Christmas. If I am honest with myself, I never really did. There is one way, among many others, to check your own calling before God. If God gifts you to participate in his work, you will know you are in a place of truth and authenticity because it will feel like play to you. When you show up, sleepy, feet-dragging, you will always feel energized and happy that you did. If someone asked me what has been the hardest work I have ever done, I would answer the raising of my children followed by the writing of my graduate thesis which is a book of poetry. Both of these pursuits contain physical artifacts of the language of my own heart. Both took enormous chunks of time and discipline and commitment on my part and on God’s part. I never worked alone. I never faked it. Looking  back, what I see are pictures of beautiful chaos, divine ordering, and play.

I was that mom, years ago, with the curly-headed little Christmas angels whose hair would never stay in place. I would feel so inadequate when the Busy Moms would pull out lip gloss and combs and attempt to tame their hair. Now, years later, I bask in a peace, the total acceptance of Grace and the belief in Christ’s total acceptance of me and my contemplative bent. The amazing thing is the way Grace can pay-it-backwards. Watch in your own life as you mature and grow in Christ, how Grace moves like a sweet-smelling smoke and beautifully colors in the patches of our memories where sin, competition, back-biting, immaturity, our own over-striving have left us washed out and empty. Those places left white are transformed into a mosaic of ALL the colors in God’s own crayon box. He never said to everyone: Thou shalt only color within the lines.

When Christ was tired, he rested. When he had questions, he asked. When he doubted, he embraced himself and the totality of his own being that was God and that was God’s. He never built a temple other than himself. He only tore them down.

We are not all called to be still. To be writers. But we are called to embrace and accept God’s creation. The way that God fashioned you, the way that God molded me…these are good. All good.

My Grownup Christmas List would be that each person could come before the authentic Christ this Christmas and feel authentic in our cookie baking, in our special musical ditties, in our handing out of blankets, in our sipping cocoa, and also, in our not-doing-at-all. That we be a church where the spirit need only whisper.

 

True Obedience

I have never used the word obedience that much in conversations with my children as I have parented them. It might be because the authoritarian go-to phrase Because I said so! never worked with our first-born, even when he was a toddler. He always mentally dug deeper, looking for an underlying reason that would warrant the desired behavior if he were alone on a desert island without a Mommy to bark orders at him. On the plus-side, though, if I could give him a deeper and valid reason such as point out a Scripture besides “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” ( I used it sparingly as my bottom-line, back-up plan) I could count on the kid to make the same decision regardless of peer pressure, amount of sugar in his system, or the sparkle-content of a looming immediate gratification.

My children never really had alter-faux personalities that they learned to turn on for their grandparents or the pastor. I just always believed as a mom I had a choice: to teach my children how to fake empathy towards others or to model for them how to feel real empathy. The only way to do this in the presence of my intelligent and shrewd babies was to minimize my own acting upon issues and circumstances I honestly cared very little about. Most importantly, I had to win the fight against making my own children feel as though they weren’t important to me because I was too busy Mother-Teresa-ing the entire neighborhood for Christ. Sometimes, in an attempt to make friends in my evangelical church where often world-missions, tract-passing, showy prayers, and the right oil-painting on your mantle are valued over the obedience of a whispering holy spirit, I failed. How often did my own children walk into the house and see a pan of freshly-baked brownies and ask the question, “Are you making these for someone else or can we have some?” God would convict me on the spot that many could answer the calling to provide food for someone else, yet only I could mother these children. It took years of reading and prayer and contemplation for me to see that just because the church as a whole isn’t answering quiet calls, doesn’t mean I have to pick up the Holy Spirit phone and take the message for the self-absorbed in my church-midst. So I began to make two pans of brownies, and if I only had the ingredients for one pan, then my own would get first dibs.

I recently read the results of a 2014 survey which stated that evangelicals prize obedience and manners over creativity and curiosity. When I studied the results of that survey, a light bulb came on for me. No wonder I have always felt sometimes out of place as I have raised my children in evangelical churches.

 

 

Have Yourself a Menopausal Christmas

I can’t get Netflix to work for me. After diving into a new teaching job head-and-heart-first just moments after finishing my graduate thesis, I approach these holidays happy, yet drained. Full, yet running on empty. God bless us everyone. Bah humbug. Best. Worst. You get the drift.

This Christmas season, I have zero tolerance for Christmas legalists. I just want to shop on Amazon.com and click the gift-wrap box. I want to order good Chinese take-out and watch bad courtroom drama. I want to sleep for ten hours without waking up at 2 a.m. feeling unfocused and dull of wit.

I want to love my treadmill and crave sugar again. Most of all, I want the Republican presidential candidates to see a vision and go as mute as John-the-Baptist’s dad. I want all the people everywhere dealing with the cold to get new, thermal blankets and puffy coats. I want just a pinch of the hope that resides in my grandson’s little pinky.

I am in a weird place. I have a Pushcart nomination and no goals, whereas, before, I always had an empty cardboard box where I could stuff all the imaginary accolades, all the North American serial rights to my invisible tokens of arrival. Now, I see the empty laugh in the full belly.  Now, as my hormones are permanently moving south for the winter, I realize the very physical, biological nature of the immaterial, spiritual quest.

I go into my attic to look for boxes of red balls of glass, and all I want to do is get rid of all the boxes. I want to put names on the spoils of my lifelong accumulation of what is red and what is green.I want to be able to look at a person and to immediately discern whether I should say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. I want to box the living daylights out of  should.  Who’s with me? Who longs for the empty tree? The vacant hearth? For words that hear themselves and change? Such sweet possibility. I hear the tinning now of the chaos that is silence, and I think how foolish I have been to appropriate peace.To assume her origins. To ignore the scratchings of a straw blanket. The violence in getting every inch right.

Naked, hungry, cold, poetry-less I stand before the mirror and I don’t have one item on my to-do list or one thing to say about Christmas except been there done that. Except, how wonderful is that?

 

 

 

Here’s The Thing

about art. A person can’t just stop writing poetry and join the “real world.” Poetry, for the poet, IS the real world. The “real world” of others…the following recipes, the ledgers, the spread-sheets, the literal geography, the sequential monotony of the industrial life–this is an impossible box for a poet or an artist or a musician to cram herself into.

Poets trip over lines. Lines such as my current favorite by Maurice Manning “They should have told us the sky is the highest steeple” (from his Fogtown poem).

The world needs each of us, each distinct kind of person.