Poetry intimidates me. I can see Charles Bukowski shaking his head, but then again, I’m intimidated by Charles Bukowski. Poetry should not be intimidating. Poets should not be intimidating. Yet surely, I cannot be the only one who finds themself shouldering the stifling mental weight of upholding the classical standards established by the canon, right? Despite popular opinion, I’m a fan of our canon. Give me Keats or give me (a painless and swift) death, but even John – considered somewhat of a failure in his lifetime – has a way of getting into my head. If I cannot write like “them,” then why write at all?
For five years, I wrote poetry in secret. Bad poetry, albeit, but poetry nonetheless. I typed in darkened bedrooms and hid drafts within inconspicuous folders on my desktop for fear of being found out. Found out as what? Well, a fraud. I was no Bukowski, and I was definitely no Keats; so, I made the cruel assumption that my way forward involved suppression by means of artistic burial. I would share my poetry with no one, therefore I could be rejected by no one. This worked well for me until my senior year, where so few creative writing courses were offered that I had no choice but to enroll in ‘Creating the Poem’ to stay on track with graduation in Spring. Before even stepping foot in the classroom, I convinced myself that what I wrote would be criticized and cast away. I had no formal training, I didn’t understand iambic pentameter, and I couldn’t tell you what distinguished poetry from fragmented prose. It mystified me, terrified me, yet attracted me with its odd set of shapes and ambiguous rules. I wanted to figure it out, I really did. But I had been telling myself for so long that I was incapable and it seemed I could do nothing but believe this until proven otherwise.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that one week of ‘Creating the Poem’ altered my entire outlook, completely flipped my preconceived notions on their head. Just one week, and I realized how wrong I had been. Isn’t this the story for most of us? Fear has a funny way of, you know, completely lying to us. You’d think we’d be able to recognize its deception by now, but aren’t we fooled almost every day? We think to ourselves, “Maybe this time it’s telling the truth, maybe this time we should listen. Because fear keeps us safe, out of harm’s way, away from discomfort.” It’s hard to ignore something so well-versed in our vulnerabilities, and, to be honest, I listen to fear more often than I tune it out. But what I’m attempting to get at here is that we must try. Fear only thrives when we let it win, and it only wins if we allow it to. I’m not saying fear will dissipate entirely when we push past it, but I am saying that it will begin to lose its grip. Trying may produce success, trying may produce failure, but wouldn’t you rather know for certain which one?
Sometimes, I still struggle with poetry. Sometimes, I struggle with those classical standards, and the fact I will never be a Charles Bukowski or a John Keats. But sometimes, I don’t struggle; and the only way I am able to experience that period of progress is by taking a stab in the dark, in spite of the intimidation that threatens to deter me.