I’m going to say something and I’m not sure if it’s a surprising fact about me or not.
I studied Creative Writing in college with a focus in poetry.
Like I said, I don’t really know if it surprises anyone or not to learn that about me. I mean, I do get the occasional look of surprise when people hear what I studied but mostly because I’m sure they are thinking, “WHY would anyone study that?!”
Or rather, why would anyone who wasn’t going to be a professor study that. And I guess I’m not sure either. I never really wanted to be a professor. But I always wanted to write. I loved writing. I still do.
I do write a blog, so maybe it doesn’t surprise people to hear that writing is a passion of mine. But I also feel particularly well suited for my current career trajectory, so maybe it is surprising. Does it matter? Not really.
One time at dinner, my friend John found out that I wrote a blog and (besides not really knowing what a blog was, which was frankly hysterical and adorable) asked why I would write a blog. And I answered, almost frantically, “because writing is a very important part of me and I need to have some sort of creative outlet to express myself or I’ll lose it.” (Sounding very much like I was losing it, I suspect.)
This post feels almost like a eulogy. In that I’m near tears. In that I’m describing a part of myself that feels very much in my distant past. In that I’m mourning the loss of poetry in my life.
Studying writing in college is such a rewarding experience. I recommend it to everyone. It’s humbling. It’s a rich experience. You will leave more wealthy than you could have ever known. When I look back at that time of my life, I’m filled with hope. With creative life. And, now, with sadness because I haven’t written a proper poem in almost 3 years.
I took an independent study with the head of the creative writing department, Marcus Cafagna. (The man has his own wikipedia article, for pete’s sake.) The purpose was to develop my portfolio, to refine my writing, perhaps prepare something for submission to a graduate program. In my case, we talked a lot about publishing.
I confided in Marcus that I wasn’t totally sure about a becoming a professor and he reassured me that was completely understandable, acceptable. As I recall, he shared his own doubts about writing in the academic world. What he wanted me to understand was that my career should in no way determine my pursuit of writing. He confessed that he had seen handfuls of students, all talented, all with strong collections, who simply never submitted for publication. He was baffled. I nodded in agreement, trying my damnedest to make sure he could see that I too, couldn’t believe that a person simply wouldn’t submit.
My semester with Marcus came and went. Do you want to know how many poems I have submitted for publication? None. To this day, I have manilla envelopes (big ones for mailing, smaller ones for return responses), with a short stack of poems inside, with guidelines for submission to 5 or 6 publications paper clipped on top. Untouched. I’m afraid of them. They are my biggest failure. My deepest regret. My saddest token.
Poetry is like a lost loved one. It sneaks up on me in moments I least expect. I pick up a collection and skim the pages and remember how much I love this thing (I still refuse to get rid of a single book of poetry I own.) I get a thought, in the car, and I jot it down on an envelope or email it to myself. I clean out a bedside table and find an old notebook I’ve left thoughts in.
I hate that this has become an essay when it should have been a short thought. I’ve got to start writing again. No one has taken it away from me but myself. I spent the most time in college studying under Dr. Jane Hoogestraat. In addition to being one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, she was a talented and accomplished poet and encouraged me a great deal. She said something very smart, that I ignored, and is something lots of writers say, and I ignored which is this:
“You must set time aside to write.”
She suggested picking a day, a time and sitting down to write, always. Honor that time. Give yourself to it, even if it doesn’t feel natural or organic. Read the New York Times profile of the 2013 Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco. It is his technical, mechanical mind that has helped him master his craft, not waiting for the “muse.”
This is maybe to say I will make a new blog challenge about writing. This is to say I will pick a time to write. This is to say I will write new pieces. This is to say I will re-write new pieces. This is to say I will submit. I will not let poetry be a dead part of me anymore.
It is never to late to be what you might have been.
I want to leave you with a poem that brings me to my knees with every reading. The poem that I always seek when writing. The poem to which I can point and say, this started it all.
Simile, N. Scott Momaday
What did we say to each other
that now we are as the deer
who walk in single file
with heads high
with ears forward
with eyes watchful
with hooves always placed on firm ground
in whose limbs there is latent flight