When you’re a poet, and in particular a poet going through some stuff (which is basically most poets 97% of the time), people can be a little annoying.
Fender bender on the highway? “Hey, there’s a poem in that!” Getting a root canal? “Hey, there’s a poem in that!” Your robot vacuum ran over some dog poop and dragged it all over the carpet for two hours while you were out shopping?
I wish I were kidding with that last one.
But these people aren’t wrong. Poems really do lurk everywhere, and half of the battle in writing them is opening your eyes to find them. I’m a poet with several books and a minor reputation under my belt, but for the past several months, I haven’t been keeping my eyes out for the slippery creatures that nest and burrow in every nook of my life.
This is where my being designated Tweetspeak’s first Poet Laura couldn’t have come at a better time.
I’ve been busy. Like, really busy. I took several trips this summer, came home in time to see three kids off to start the school year (including a new high schooler and a new middle schooler), and then, just for the fun of it, decided to buy a new house and move. I’ve got an essay collection coming out in a few months and How to Write a Form Poem in the works, too, not to mention my daily freelance writing assignments.
These are all wonderful, exciting events, but I got out of the habit of writing poems whilst trying to keep the rest of my life afloat. Wouldn’t you know, the more exciting my life got, the more the people spoke:
“I saw your gorgeous vacation pictures from Lake Superior. I can’t wait to read your poems about it!” (There are none.)
“You should write about buying your kid his first deodorant for gym class!”
“Real estate closing? What an impressive sonnet cycle that would make!”
My poem output has been a little thin––translucent, actually, and that’s because I have fallen into the trap of perfection and high expectations. Since I’ve been tired and distracted, I’ve procrastinated with my writing because I don’t want my poems to reveal my threadbare state of mind. It’s as if I don’t want to face myself.
But that’s silly. To quote myself from How to Write a Poem, “I’ve learned how important it is to be free, open, and fluid when beginning to write in order to let the poem find itself.”
Since all eyes are on me as the first Poet Laura, the time to act is now. I have been tasked with reading poems to chickens, writing poems about chocolate, and exploring the history of poems addressed to people named Laura, to name just a few of my duties. I don’t have time not to write. I can’t afford not to have fun.
I am honored to have you join me during the coming year of poetic adventures. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an appointment reading Pablo Neruda to a bantam hen, and I can guarantee there’s a poem in that.
Photo by Lee, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish