A while back I was sitting in a writing workshop, notebook at the ready, eager to sop up any advice, inspiration, and ideas the speaker — a poet — was willing to share.
The poet shared a story about a walk two or three writers were taking together. One of them noticed something about the world, as writers do. Perhaps it was the way a leaf fell from a tree or the way the sun turned the sky as it rose. I can’t remember what it was, but it was something that captured the attention of the writer.
“That’s a poem,” declared the writer.
“It’s not a poem,” the poet said. “It’s not a poem until you write the poem.”
I think there is some truth to this. I have experience times when I’ve said, “That’s an essay,” to a friend and in just that statement, the steam has released — a balloon in my hand lifts itself in the sky and floats away. But I have also been in situations with other writers (or great friends) when we’ve both known we’re a part of a story that will be told and retold again and again. The shared articulation has always been deliciously intimate, and I am grateful for it.
The poet went on to say that those who claim a poem before it’s a poem should perhaps step aside. “Let those willing to do the work, write the poem.”
Earlier that day, much earlier, the sun had barely brightened the sky, my friend Jill and I met for a walk. Jill and I talked about everything and anything, as good friends do. Jill could name all the flowers we saw, while I ran away from bugs so large I swore they could say my name. She could smell lavender when all I smelled was dry dirt. We discussed the common text we were studying during our time in the workshop. We spoke a lot of motherhood. Many times that morning — and several times before when Jill and I have talked — we said, “Oh, that’s a story. That’s a poem. Write it. You should write that!”
That afternoon, though, what the poet proclaimed felt like a rule I had broken and I was angry and ashamed.
I had come here because I was willing to do the work. I was sitting here, away from my children, away from everything I’d known, because stories are like oxygen to me and I wanted to know how to keep breathing. I didn’t want to step aside. I wanted very much to be in the way.
I went to graduate school. I sign up for writing conferences and workshops. I enter libraries and bookstores. I sit down at my desk and write because I’m interested in what could be. I think that’s the first step in having a dream. Perhaps the dare, then, is to name it. To live the dream is to do the work. To not step aside. To be brave enough to get in the way.
Next month is National Poetry Month and to begin participating in this most luxurious genre, how about spending some time considering what could be a poem? This week look around your world, notice spring in all its forms. Write a “Could Be” poem. Maybe it will look like a list of all you notice and want to eventually turn into poetry, a prologue of what’s to come.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Sandra Heska King that we enjoyed.
If I Built a House
If I built a house
there would be more
than three feet
to the nearest neighbor,
preferably at least three yards,
preferably even three miles,
but at least three yards.
It would have lots of windows
a fireplace, and
a real laundry room
with a sink and a counter.
It would have a dream kitchen
with an island and quartz counters
and brick backsplashes
and an oven hood.
The yard would be a wildlife haven
with lots of trees and flowers.
When you were inside,
you could believe you were outside.
The house would sit on a lake,
and every morning I would push my
kayak out into the early mist.
Also, there would be no
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