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King Kong takes on disbelief

February 27, 2011

King Kong takes on disbelief

In praise of writing bad poetry

This might seem an odd invitation, but it is essential I think in writing, as well perhaps in life.

There is a mighty editor that lives and breathes inside us all. I don’t have to look farther than myself to understand and feel that pervasive wave. Is my writing or any one poem good enough? Will anyone think it worth their time for reading it?

The greater impact of that internal voice is that often it stops us from writing and publishing what we long to do. May we for the moment allow ourselves to part from the notion our next poem will cure cancer or even facial blemishes, that no appreciative horde of readers will flock to our doors, that no gang of literary publishers will suddenly leap from behind the bushes and beg to formally publish our work? I’m suggesting that we look, just for this breath, that the most appropriate and viable stance we can take is to write, poems being the venue here, from a state of love in expressing ourselves. So then let’s consider the requirements of love.

Love is the affirmative state of accepting what is, exactly as it is. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Easy that might seem, isn’t it? But here comes “the editor” to qualify and cajole or simply to negate honest words. It’s not good enough, not as good as what you’ve written before, not clever, not honest, or too honest, not artistic enough, not the equal to what another writes. It’s an endless list.

But ask yourself, what response you’d give to a child home from school with their latest finger-painting? Would it land with pleasure upon the refrigerator door? Would we simply appreciate the expression offered up to us? (I’ll hope your answer would be yes!) So then why do we exclude ourselves? Will your first ever poem be your best? Or your second, third, or one hundredth? Don’t we stumble abundantly especially as we begin? And aren’t we hopefully always learning something more? Regardless of your solar years, the child yet remains inside of you and always will. So in loving honor of such first steps, shouldn’t we grant ourselves some room to tumble and fall? And I can’t quite see where that would ever really end.

William Stafford, a quietly profound observational American poet had considerable good guidance in this regard. Once asked in interview, as was his habit to arise early and write each day, what if his next poem was not so good as his last the day before. What to do? His response was sheer simplicity, “then I just lower my standards”, he said. This is more than merely amusing. Here’s the choice. Write what’s in front of you, or write nothing. Writers write. That’s the first requirement, all else being secondary. Stafford’s stance is what allows next and next and next to come into light and pen.

And with regard for the inner thread of experience and how it reveals itself, Stafford also suggested, what if that next really good poem was sitting right out there but the only path to it was through some several other lesser poems that need to come into being first? Like stepping stones we can imagine here. Being unwilling to write what’s most immediate blocks the way to what might only be visible afterwards. So writing “bad” poems (and doesn’t our editor love that adjective) can be one of the more creative and opening things we might do as writers.

None of this is meant to be an “excuse” for being a lazy unobservant writer. Writing does take more than the endless repetition of greeting card phrases, but that’s just natural to the process itself. Write. Observe the result. Write again.

And consider communication just as human beings inhabiting this life we share. Wouldn’t we prefer, wouldn’t we be better off knowing more, understanding more of both ourselves and others if we encourage expression? Given that choice, expression or silence, which do we want to promote?

And of writing itself, both in form and content, would we not want to challenge ourselves, to look above and below the rocks we find? Discovery awaits. The best poem writing prompt I’ve ever been given was write something in a manner you’ve never done before! We all develop voices and styles of writing that become familiar and useful for us and this is totally natural and right, but more awaits often just out of reach. When I come to a prompt that completely baffles me in first, or even second glance, I know here’s something worth the labor to attempt. And often also means the result may fall some short or even fail to reach the desired result, but so what. That’s exactly what a challenge means! It can be like starting all over again. Now read that sentence again, with optimism in heart. It can be like starting all over again! That’s a necessity of discovery and of learning. And allowing that to lead, more than fear of making a mistake, can become a wondrous experience!

Judgments, what editors do, are necessary. Try to cross a busy street intersection without that ability. But that doesn’t make them the sole source of guidance for what you need do. You are something more than your editor. You include childish wonder, something raw, something more honest than polite, not the tool but a voice that wants to speak and be heard. The invitation really is, please, can you come out and play?

Unlike as that King Kong movie ended, it wasn’t beauty that killed the beast. It was greed and not seeing the wonder and beauty of the world. So go, knock down a few trees and we’ll understand.

So what about sharing your writing expression into the world? No, don’t take your poems to the dismissive bully down the street. You know that. Here’s a two step plan to become visible. (Granted, poems in a closet aren’t much fun.) Step one. Post your writing onto a weblog; that’s easy and free. Presto, you’ll feel the difference. Step two. Find and join in with a like-minded community of poet writers and further share your work. Only one requirement: do it.

How and why. Make visible what you write, and visibility loves an audience. (Remember, like here, we’re here to be appreciative, not critical unless you ask. And never unkindly so.) Include poems you’re not sure about. You’ll be exactly like the rest of us! And best yet, your willingness to share may be just the right medicine for someone else unsure of their writing too. That is a powerful gift. It is rightly said, we learn more from our attempts, our mistakes, than we do from a hundred jobs done perfectly. We care about results, but a key part of results is the process getting there. It does not matter so much, perfection itself, but the process of “perfecting”. That is the value of sharing your work, both for yourself and for the rest of us. (And no, not every single poem will be finished nor posted. But you’ll know the difference between what is a good and genuine effort, and what can sit and simmer for a while more, or even be forgotten too. That’s all fine.)

It matters not where you are on your path, but rather, the direction you face.

Often enough and no matter how I felt during the process of writing, there comes a moment when the poem is “done” and ready to post. And in that moment I can go completely blank with no notion at all whether the poem was successful or not, simply no clue. The result I only learn afterward. A poem does not stand alone, nor is the result solely that of the writer; it is a thread that the reader picks up and carries on. That is where a poem finds its’ breath and life. Let disbelief sit in the backseat for a while (and don’t worry, it’s not going away). And some would say at that point the poem is clearly no longer yours alone. How many poems and poets do you already remember right now and carry inside of you? That’s why we need want and to be willing for our poems to become visible. That’s the real completion of writing and new beginning of its’ meaning.

Let your poems go. There will be more, as you want them to be.

May your poems all go up on the refrigerator door!

neil reid © february 2011

       Suggested readings by William Stafford (1914-1993):

Books from the Poets on Poetry series, The University of Michigan Press:
Writing the Australian Crawl, Views on the Writer’s Vocation 1978
You Must Revise Your Life 1986
Crossing Unmarked Snow, Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation 1998
The Answers Are Inside the Mountains, Meditations on the Writing Life 2003

       William Stafford Quotations:

Writers have many things to be careful not to know – and strangely one of the things not to know is how to write.

Writing is a reckless encounter with whatever comes along.

Poems don’t just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves. …A good rule is – don’t respond unless you have to. But when you find you do have a response – trust it. It has a meaning.

       Lena Horne Quotation:
       (just too good and appropriate not to include!)

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

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5 Comments
  1. Irene permalink*
    February 28, 2011 2:30 pm

    Neil, I love the idea that poems are a way of seeing the beauty and wonder of the world. Also that sharing is part of our collective consciousness. The personal is also the collective. Otherwise the blooming and wilting will be in a desert, all alone. I’ve done enough poeming now to trust in the process. It’s through the process that writing expands. Without the process the writing sits on a shelf till expiry date.

    There’s more than a bit of ouch when we’re not sure, not sure if a poem is working. And that’s the value of responses. It helps one to see, and to revise as necessary. The gift of our response to others, on how a poem strikes us personally, has value. Poeming sites have more value if there’re genuine responses from the reader. You know, just saying, exactly how reading a piece pleasures you as a reader. That’s the point, is it not, of writing and reading?

    • March 9, 2011 12:49 am

      Having written for as long as I have, and now publicly as well, I have to report that the editor demons yet exist, although they have changed along with me. However their bite is not so deep, more subtle perhaps. Change is again the consistent thing. If I am not so “shy” about poems, then it comes up again approaching reading poems aloud in public now! I am a babe in the woods again.

      Each of us may fill in the blank about where and how “the editor” raises its’ brow, questioning. The process it seems to me, the shift that is possible, is neither resist nor dread but become a willing participant within the process. Maybe that is where we approach genuine discovery, our little wooden boats out on the unknown sea. Of course from the inside of that moment it seldom all feels that glorious!

      And now the “result”, what we produce matters less to me whatever the form than allowing the process to grow itself without adding more second-guessing, maybe even growing a sense of welcome to those moments of uncertainty.

      Granted, this is more possible given a measure of trust in oneself and the nature of experience. And in such a state of grace I think beauty is more visible. Thank you Irene.

      • March 9, 2011 1:11 am

        I hear you Neil. Much inside that conclusion.

  2. March 1, 2011 4:10 am

    You know this. This is exactly what I’m working on. Allowing myself to be. It might seem like an exaggeration when I say that the editor has prevented me from writing for years, but it is true. Yes, there were distractions too. But the fact that I chose to get distracted, rather than write, was my old and familiar way of finding an excuse to not do what I really should have been doing.
    Sharing is another process I cringe at. But I do not simply ascribe that to insecurities. There is also a cynic involved, I do not expect people to take my writing for what it is; there are myriad factors coloring their view- the general expectations from literary writing and the populist view/ definition of poetry.
    Death-of-the-writer is a helpful outlook, I must surrender completely to my work, submit to the fact that it would take a life of its own, once it is done.

    That said, there are insecurities too 🙂 Sharing one’s work, laying it bare, out in the open to the judgment of one and all, requires a fool’s courage, a somewhat blatant optimism that runs deeper than the surface. Or perhaps, a primal devil-may-care attitude like King Kong’s 🙂

    So thank you, for iterating what goes down in so many of our minds. Writing is a talent, it is a predisposition and yes, it is a creative process. But above all, what we must know (don’t we?), it is a craft. And like all other crafts, it is to be done over and over again, it can get better if done so and done right…it is to be learned.

  3. March 7, 2011 9:35 am

    yes, yes and yes…. glad to have stopped by to read your post neil…

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