I had a boyfriend my junior year of high school. That, in itself, is shocking if you knew me. He was a year older and after graduating, he attended a liberal arts college in our town. It was 1972 and dinosaur computers roamed the earth.
The boyfriend did a freshman project that involved teaching a computer to write poetry. It was all very creative and revolutionary at the time. We added lists of nouns and verbs and adjectives and whatnot. Then the Compudactyl coughed out simple sentence structure with random words filling the blanks. The poetry was pretty nonsensical but it was an era when that almost worked.
The boyfriend wrote his own poems as well; they read like math problems to me. He’d struggle for days, sweating out cleverness in unusual words arranged in shapes on the page. Art was hard work. I was a teenage girl, drowning in angst, self-loathing, and problems at home, so I wrote poetry, too. I’d scribble something on a napkin, show it to him, and well… Not quite supportive. He thought I didn’t suffer enough in the writing process for the words to add up to any value. He was right. The words were easy. It was life that was complicated.
I continued writing poems through my twenties, dismissing them as post-teen-angst drivel, and never showing them to anyone again. I was a young feminist and survivor of doing stupid things; these were not pink poems about hearts and flowers. I wrote them in my own blood and still didn’t take them seriously.
Misogynasaurus. It’s a testament to the depth of gender bias is in our culture that smart women are often our own worst enemies. Traditionally, we don’t hire us, we don’t vote for us, and we don’t listen to us. I didn’t listen to me… but sometimes it takes us a while to grow into ourselves.
A few decades later I mentioned to a male friend that I was thinking of posting some poetry. He said something sarcastic, so I turned on my heel and marched away to hide my quivering lip. Truth: He likes my writing. That isn’t what he was sarcastic about. He doesn’t like poetry. He might even be afraid of it.
For crying out loud, I’m afraid of poetry.
Sometimes poetry can seem almost unintelligible. There are big words with obscure meanings and maybe there is a thesis out there written by a graduate student that can explain it to me. But I don’t want to read a thesis to understand a poem. It makes me feel like the one in the room who doesn’t get the joke. I don’t enjoy feeling stupid.
And then some poetry might be so insanely flat and simple that it has no hook for me and then I feel too intelligent, which ends up not being that enjoyable either.
Some poetry is so floral; so pale-apricot and ruffles, so adjective-laden, so very perfectly poetic, that I want to scream with a red pen all over it. Oops. Forgive me. I’m the one who quit Brownies because they were sissies.
Maybe it isn’t about poetry. Or accordion music. Or horror movies. Or opera. More likely it’s about what appeals to each unique individual. And whether we have an open mind. And how pretentious we are about art in general.
So I did it. I gave up worrying about what people thought. Or worse, what I thought. I’ve posted poems once a week, with a photo, for the last year. It’s an act of courage: I write them on Monday mornings and post them fast. I don’t let myself over-think it.
Recently, the same friend talked to me about poetry again. After complimenting a few poems, he said, “I thought I didn’t like poetry but maybe I was wrong.” That puts my poetry in the same category as my other gift to him –Brussel sprouts.
UPDATE: I’m traveling a lot this fall, giving clinics, and loving every minute. In a way, clinics are like book talks with horses included. Hard to beat that. There are several new US locations, as well as Canada. In February, I’ll be working in New Zealand and Australia. I’m planning writing days while I’m away and very excited about everything I’ll learn on this trip. (Contact me if you’d like to know where the clinics are located Down Under.) And this other bit of news: The next book will be poems. I’d like to use a different (more complicated) publishing process with better photo reproduction and shiny paper. Is that too uppity? For all the reasons poetry confounds people? So it goes, “they” told me a memoir was a bad idea, too.
And thanks to those of you still posting reviews on Amazon. It makes a bigger difference than you imagine, keeping the books alive in the search engines. I appreciate it.
I’ve thought long and hard about how to get my head around writing poems without feeling a need to apologize. Without the feeling like I’m a pretender to literary élite. I’ve always believed that fighting pretentiousness was my superpower.
But I’m not the first woman on a farm with a pen and there are some personal feelings that want out. I want to praise this beautiful fragile earth. I want to write tiny stories in clean words. And love poems to horses. And most of all, I want to write poetry for people who think they don’t like poetry.