National Poetry Month

 


I never thought I would do work as a reporter.

My senior seminar professor, while we were discussing possible career paths as I finished college, even point blank told me that she couldn’t see me working at a newspaper. Ever.

In fact, she didn’t think I would be good at it. This was not meant as a flaw to my character at all, but rather a note of how I could best serve the writing community and literature as a whole. Any talent I have is definitely not for reporting.

This same professor compared me to Susan Sontag, which was one of the best compliments I ever received. I had big plans for my life as artist.

During this time, I was under consideration for a masters of fine arts (MFA) at a few different universities. I’m not sure that my heart was in it, but either way I didn’t get in. I narrowly missed acceptance to one of them and received what has become a compliment to me at this point—a rejection with love.

I was going to become a professional poet, basically, a path I’m overall glad I didn’t—or couldn’t—take. I only wanted to go to what I considered to be some of the top universities for poetry in the country and, after collecting myself and putting myself on a different career path, felt pretty good that I was basically good enough to get into at least one of those. My background and my aesthetic choices came into play, two very common and reasonable reasons to not have your poetry accepted. Now I don’t know that studying poetry more will take me closer to or further from meaningful things to say. I’ve never known whether writing was something you can truly teach (on an artistic level, anyway), or if any truths about life really come from reading more.


Anyway, April is National Poetry Month, as some people may know. Poetry has always been a pretty big part of my life; there’s little that moves me more than a good poem. Poetry wasn’t ever a lucrative career to pursue, but I know the recitation of poetry was an oft-required and generally appreciated practice for people that both normalized and popularized poetry, a genre that is now thought of as less important or not thought of at all.

When I was only writing poetry, which was most of college (except in classes), I came to think of the medium as a way of naming things. During all my logic studies, the concept of naming and language came up a lot, which is very complex and vague to me now that I’m out of school. We all know of sensations without words. Each time I’m confronted with that, I get this feeling that I am lifting off the earth, overwhelmed with the sensation to either cry or sneeze. This is why we write and read poetry. I cannot share or fully experience a moment or feeling without a name to it, not really. Thoughtful poetry, experimental or not, communicates those moments that we can’t define and don’t truly know about.

I first had a poem published in my sophomore year of college, and it’s been quite a journey since. It taught me a lot about the community I write within, though I have to admit my participation has been low since I have been responsible for local news.

No matter what I’m focused on writing, I still think everyone should pick up “Leaves of Grass” and give it a go. It’s one of those books I’ll stick in my bag while going for a walk and stop to read periodically. Obviously, Walt Whitman is hardly obscure. There are plenty of poets that are and plenty that aren’t. You have your Emily Dickinsons (my poetry professor once explained to me that American poetry either stems from Dickinson or Whitman, introverted and extroverted, respectively), your Anne Sextons, your Sylvia Plaths.

I guess those are my favorite popularized poets but the list could go on and on. I don’t have the time, space or energy to list every obscure poet that you may have heard of. I especially don’t have time to list all the ones you haven’t heard of.

I have been practicing fiction now for some reason and obviously continuing with nonfiction, but I don’t have much of an interest in writing poems right now, maybe just from the change of scenery. It’s a shame. My favorite poetry professor, whose letter of recommendation could get me into just about any MFA program I can think of, told me I should pursue a career in poetry, that I had a voice worth hearing. But I don’t know whose call that is to make.

Sometimes its hard to believe that anyone has ever wanted to read something I’ve written, especially with something as long and labor-intensive as fiction. With poetry, I could finish somewhat quickly and send it off for the judgment of good or bad while I’m still riding on the authority that drove me to write that day in the first place. I have to sit with my stories now which gives me ample time to hate them. Anyone who makes art of any kind can empathize with that, I think.

Every month and week it seems is national week or month of something, but I don’t know how many people actually know or care about National Poetry Month. No one owes poetry anything. On the other hand, though, it’s been a mode of art and communication that has, for centuries, shaped political, cultural and social ideas. Philosophical thought has often come from poetry and influenced poetry—for example, Walt Whitman was the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wanted for America, which is a very clear connection between thought and the art that comes from it. Underrepresented voices have been lifted by having the ability to speak their own words through poetry, like Pablo Neruda, Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes. People can learn about themselves, for better or worse, through the written word.

It doesn’t matter if you read this and decide to pick up a book of poetry or not. You don’t owe the genre anything. It has always existed and will always exist, whether or not you decide to read it or I decide to write it.

 

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