I get asked this often, and while I am not certain that I have a definitive answer, I’m going to attempt to elucidate how poetry is part of my life and why I write it.
I don’t know that I ever looked forward at the life that I planned for myself and said “I want to be a poet when I grow up.” Astronaut, yes. Doctor or Firefighter, most definitely. I even eventually knew that I wanted to be a WRITER… (with all the teenage drama that idea entailed at the time.) Over the years, I became an Anthropologist and Researcher as that is in my bones, and wrote a lot on the side. I wrote my first poem when I was 8, at least that I remember, and I don’t think I every really stopped writing poetry since. It has always been a way I express myself, a way to get my thoughts down and to release an emotion, memorialize a memory or have a bit of fun.
Several years ago, I helped train students for Poetry Out Loud, a national Poetry reading competition– extemporaneous speaking with poetry. It is possibly one of the most fulfilling experiences with poetry that I have ever been part of and I carry it with me to this day. A few years later a friend casually asked me what it was like being a professional poet. I blinked somewhat idiotically at her and asked her why she thought I was a POET. She laughed at me, rightly, and pointed out that not only have I taught poetry, worked on coaching with Poetry Out Loud, but I also had about 400 poems ‘under my belt’. She then asked me how in the world I could not think of myself as a poet.
I of course had to think about this… and when I found myself to compelled to write poem about it, I realize that she might be right.
So, now that I acknowledge myself as a poet, rather late in the poetical game of my life, I have focused more on my poetry and spent time talking about it more to other groups of people. My favorite is when I get to talk to high school kids about poetry. They ask the most wonderful questions. My favorites: Do you need to be educated to be a poet? Does it take discipline to force yourself to write poetry?
These for me are the fundamental things that help me grow in my poetry. I have already said being ‘creative on demand’ has been the hardest job I have ever had. Now that I work full time at home, writing, editing and researching, sitting down at my desk and saying “I’m going to be creative today” can be such a struggle. It is important, however, to do just that. You have to create the habits of sitting down and writing if you want to keep things flowing continuously. While I don’t write poetry everyday or even every week, although I’m challenging myself to try that right now, I do try to write every day in some fashion. The process of writing keeps my mind sharp, it keeps me from loosing my verbal lexicon and allows an easier access to my more philosophical side.
I tend to write my best poetry after I’ve had time to think about what I am writing. I rarely writing in a moment of extreme passion, but rather my poetry is that of reflection. When I do write in ‘the moment’ it is often an extreme situation. Poetry, for me, is an expression of a single moment, and therefore once the poem is written (or sometimes even before it is finished) the moment has ended. When I write reflectively on something, it allows me to look at a situation or moment from more sides than I would when I write in the immediate flush of emotion. Each way is good and produces something wonderful and unique. I’m a happy poet, so there too, I tend to not write when in a bad or maudlin mood.
That’s why I write, and how, I suppose. Right now I am challenging myself to use my poetry to address things in our society and culture that need a spotlight pointed on them. I’m also started a new challenge to spend a year writing poems in Iambic Pentameter (Blank Verse). If you want to be a poet, look to those who have gone before you, learn their style and skills. Don’t learn them to copy them, learn them to expand your horizons and give you more skills and ingenuity to work with.