As my poetry students begin diving into the real work of writing their own original poetry, it is time that I venture in the same direction. It is time to move away from simply admiring poetry and from shaping poetic prose, and into actually crafting poems myself. This is not comfortable territory for me, partly because I feel like I know who I am as a writer of prose-my voice is clear to me as I employ it and this grants me confidence. As a poet, I almost feel as though I’ve lost my voice or as though I am in the midst of some identity crisis. I don’t know what kind of poet I want to be or could become. Imposter syndrome possesses undeserved strength and takes over my mind convincing me that I should just not even bother to explore my poetic identity. It drowns out all of the rational writing advice I so freely give to students and persuades me to put the pencil down…even when I know better.
Today, my students read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “The Stolen Camera” and heard John Mayer’s song “3×5” and considered what it might mean to really see the world and hold those images only in our minds. Then, they went outside to find something in the natural world to truly take in…all the while knowing that they would be writing from this experience. In a quick write session after our time outside, I wrote the following lines after paying specific attention to two trees standing side by side, one dead and leafless and the other fully alive and overwhelmed by green foliage. This is truly a very rough draft, composed in maybe 8 minutes of class time and not edited since…sharing here is my way of reminding myself what this process will feel like for my students. A level of vulnerability is required when drafting writing and turning it in for feedback–in doing this we are essentially saying, “Here, let me pour myself across the page and you can then dissect my truth and tell me where I have been false” This is not easy work. But it is critical work. So, here is that untitled draft…
Barren brown branches stand strong,
though morosely self-aware—
right next door stands
another set of branches,
generously glorified by the green
leaves clinging in pride reveling
in their vitality.
Death and life—side by side
as though friends…
Unaware one should fear the other
Unaware the other is fueled by the one
—One eye…then the other
In closing the first, death
dominates the landscape in front of me.
In closing the other, life
blooms brilliantly verdant.
Looking through both eyes reveals
the truth of the world—
Not all is death.
Not all is life giving.
Both…together…side by side…
giving weight to the world—
balance to our existence—
an end to the beginning.
Shielding one from the other
is neither prevention nor protection.
(Day 16! Got home super late from a lovely night out but still managed to get this writing done!)