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.

Lazy days of summer….

I am headed to Kansas City overnight on a business trip with my husband and I am hoping the luxury hotel atmosphere, and most importantly, the privacy away from my house, kids, and to-do lists, will inspire me to get some writing done.

 

Here is what I hope to accomplish: 1. Select poems for my summer residency at Ashland; 2. Write some on the novel I started on a whim 3. Read, read, read! 4. Work on a couple of essays in the works.

Perhaps some poetry will get written as well.

I will report back.

MFA jitters….

I knew this would happen. I found out recently that I have been accepted into my top-choice MFA program at Ashland University and I suddenly feel like the master of the simple sentence. All the little critics in my head are harping their responses to my exciting news.

What do you think you are doing? You aren’t good enough. You don’t have any thing to say or a voice to say it with!

Luckily, I have some time to regroup and get my confidence back before the summer residency in July. I know that I am writing too much, revising too little, and reading much too little. So this week I am starting a reading regimen (after I get through the Grisham book for my book club this week…a girl’s got to have some fun) which will include reading a book of poems by one poet each week. I will probably start by re-reading some of the chapbooks I already own. I want to focus heavily on Native American poets–Sherman Alexie, Ai, Joy Harjo, Natasha Tretheway, and others.

I will start, of course, with Seamus Heaney (poetry god).  I plan to jot down some thoughts while reading with the particular task of determining for myself how each poet achieves the living thing he or she creates upon the page.

Nothing shuts up the Little Critics like a dose of Heaney. His poetry is unattainable, but it is so beautiful, so gripping, that it gives me cause to participate in the art in whatever meaningful way that I can.

Heaney and Yeats, the two greats in my opinion who tower above all other poets, have a way of turning a poem on a single line. I will post some of those lines as I read them this week. What about you? Which poets have you discovered or re-discovered this week?