Over the last few months, I’ve been spending more and more time studying poetry.
I’m not afraid to try new things or expand myself in new directions. I’m finding, and I’m sure that this will be news to some of you, that you can write poetry faster than you can write novels! I find this to be especially exciting. Why not try writing poetry?
But the problem is that the more I studied, the more intimidated I became. I still have to work in 10-minute increments, so I’m finding that reading anthologies, listening to the Poetry Foundation’s podcasts, taking my time with this study is not hard to do. Yet, I face the same insecurities I faced as a novelist: wondering if I’m good enough, wondering if I can write a few lines, wondering if my creativity has found a new home.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find
out how far one can go.”
I’m especially in love with Gerard Manley Hopkins. I can’t get enough Billy Collins. I’m delighted to discover Tony Hoaglund and Hailey Leithauser. And I’m reacquainting my friendship with X. J. Kennedy. I’m also discovering poetry about tough subjects, I’m seeing angry words used to ignite causes and confessions. I find myself considering points of view I would never have considered. I’m figuring out what I love, what I like and what I can live without.
This particular medium of art is like any other: we can have our favorites. We don’t have to justify our tastes to anyone. And we can return to them over and over again.
But then at times it also feels like, with the tools of poetry that I have a new set of crayons, all colors I’ve never seen before. Could I write poetry too? The thought is delightful, now to discard all of the lies and securities that come with a new treasure.
Let’s go through these lies. I imagine they’ll sound familiar to you.
LIE #1 That good poems are too magical for me. When I read short stories or poems, I often assume that there is a secret code the authors know that I don’t. It’s like they understand what it takes to make a phrase beautiful, a narrative interesting, or a twist curve just the right way. I believed, until just recently, that there is this separation between what I see that is published and what I see under my pencil. The truth, I can’t quite explain how revelatory it is, is that there is NO difference.
Okay, there is a small one: published works have been polished and submitted. Mine haven’t. But that doesn’t mean mine can’t be. I can, with some work and determination, smudge out that fake line that separates the art around me. The truth is that I can be a part of the magic. The only thing keeping me back is me.
LIE #2 That art has only one interpretation. This came to me while I was reading one of those literature anthology textbooks, the kind some poor college student bought and then discarded as soon as the final was over. (Found it for $2 at a thrift store. Couldn’t pass it up!)
Early in the book Kate Chopin’s short story, The Story of an Hour was examined and several theses were suggested for a student’s analysis. I read the short story. Then I read the “draft” of what a student could write about and I said out loud:
“They don’t get this story because they’re too young.” (I assume that the intended audience for a textbook like this is a college student. The last time I was in college, Bill Clinton was running for president. The first time.)
This is where the lie comes in: I believed that my interpretation, the one with half a century’s experience, was wrong because it was different. It’s only taken me fifty years to see this truth: with art, there are no right answers.
So I’m telling you all publicly: I don’t want to fear to be wrong with art anymore. I want to celebrate my interpretations. And should I ever write a paper, about a specific short story, I know exactly what my thesis should be.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry
is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong,
a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
I don’t have to be like any of these poets. I just have to sit with my new colors and play and enjoy what I’m doing.
What about you? What lies about your art have you discarded?
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.