Lately, I have been thinking a lot about this identity I give myself of “Poet.” How did get to that title for myself? I decided I would try to make a timeline of what I see as my development and/or realization of being a Poet. I am trying to avoid sounding pretentious but that las sentence couldn’t help itself
- 3-4: At some point during this age range I learned to read a little and to write my name. My mother read bible stories to us and I had a large collection of Dr. Seuss etc.
- 5-6: Ah school. I loved school and the school library. I loved Robert Louis Stevenson and Shel Silverstein along w/ a LOT of fiction writing. I liked to make up poems and songs on the long bus ride to and from school. We lived about 10 miles out down a long road and we travelled about an hour each way. I especially liked to make poems about dandelions.
- 7-8: One of my teachers had us memorize poems. I thought this was great fun and I wish I could find one that we did: I like old clothes (then something about, not new clothes, borrowed and old clothes or something of that nature!). And another teacher had me doing like little special projects like making little booklets of crossword puzzles and such. I found out much later in life that this was the year my parent’s had been asked if they would allow me to skip a grade, my brother too, but they said no. Why?
- 9-10: In fourth grade we did creative writing. I loved to try and make up stories and plays. I do remember one poem I actually wrote in that class:
You plan to do that
You plan to do this
The longer you wait
The more you miss.
- 10-11: This should be 5th grade. I was pulled from class to be in the AG (academically gifted program) during what would have been my math class (yeah, bad idea I still stink at math) . We had to make a book of poems once. The poems were pretty much all forms, but I recall loving to write Tanka and the front of my booklet had a Paw Paw Bear (remember them . Our haikus were illustrated w/ magazine cut outs or pictures and read outloud to the regular class and there was a lot of giggling but for some reason mine was well-respected. Isn’t it strange to remember that recognition so well. I don’t recall the haiku but it was about an owl.
- 11-13: I approached poetry during junior high by writing as music. I was very into music and I would copy down the lyrics to songs from the radio. I can’t really read music well and I don’t have a good ear for tone/key etc so I don’t know what I was thinking. But I loved sounds.
- 14-15: My brother, who was already in high school, got me signed into the one Creative Writing class we had (it ws supposed to be an elective for Sophmore’s and up). My best friend and my boyfriend were also in that class. So I doubt I paid great attention. My best friend was also very talented (well at everything she does ** wink to her ** ) so I kind of felt like second fiddle anyway. Ah, high school drama. I do recall my teacher telling me I had natural rhyme and rythym. When I read my poems from then they are of course juvenile but there is a natural flow to them. I did start a bad habit then of not editting. I figured what came out is what stayed. I am still trying to break habit! Thanks for a great class Mrs. Boyer (now Williams).
- 16-18: I was sending some poems out and doing a little writing during high school but not much remains of that. I know I got caught up in one of those vanity presses at one time, but I didn’t spring for a copy. I liked reading some poetry we were presented with in school but since I was not good at scanning I thought I was stupid. I really enjoyed Anne Bradstreet and Emily Dickinson.
- 18-20: I went off to college and changed my major multiple times. I finally took a poetry class around the time I was 20 and loved the workshop format. I notice now, though, that w/ all that education and even the workshop I still never really had a course of study on craft. I was instinctually trying to write. My first poetry workshop teacher was Christine Garren. She was just great.
- 21-23: The rest of college was a bit of a struggle. I had financial issues. I can recall even then wanting to stay in school and get my MFA but I didn’t think I could have a viable career so I just decided to get my English degree and then try to get a job. I did complete another poetry workshop w/ Stuart Dischell and I had a few poems selected for student publications and a small press called The Storyteller. A few other small publications followed but mainly rejections and a few acceptances for magazines that then folded.
- 24-25: I got married at 23 right out of college and got my job (where I still am) and I tried for a while to submit work, but I wasn’t good at revising and I felt lost. At age 25 I quite doing anything noticeable w/ my writing except the occassionally re-reading and wishing I had a good thought.
- 30-32: I started to re-evaluate my situation because I knew I wasn’t happy and everything came back to: I wanted to write and I wanted to teach. I ultimately decided to apply to Queens for the MFA program. I said if I didn’t get in I would still try to write but I wouldn’t go anywhere else (at least not now) to pursue my education for work/financial reasons. Thank goodness I got in!
Whew! That is a lot of writing and mainly for my own catharsis. I am looking forward to completing the MFA program and keeping my job for the next two years while I pay off my debts incurred during my 20′s. I hope then to be able to get a few publications and find myself a teaching position at the community college and/or college level.
And what do I notice in all this? I have always had poetry. I have always liked teaching. I just spent a lot of time doubting myself and focusing on the finances of my life instead of joy. I am much happier now. The other thing I take away is that more poets and writers need to focus on both sides of the coin: reading and writing. You can’t be a writer without being a reader.
Thanks for anyone who took time to read. I enjoyed really thinking this thru!