When I was a kid I went to a birthday party at which the main event, so to speak, was a a make-your-own cupcake type thing. There a few different frostings and what seemed like a dozen toppings that include cinnamon hearts, popcorn, rainbow sprinkles and blueberries. It was a blast.
I think there ought to be some sort of make your own poem equivalent.
The cool thing about that party was that we attacked the creative process like soldiers storming a beachhead. Some of us went for artful creations – you know, cupcakes that could have been featured on the cover of Better Home & Garden. Some of us were focused on what we were about to eat – I like cinnamon hearts but I don’t like chocolate-covered raisins. We were being intensely practical, very conscious of the end result.
And some of us just went whole-hog wild. If it was there, we used it, and we used as much as possible. When we were done, our plates were jumbles of food stuff covering what only vaguely resembled a cupcake.
In other words, we didn’t edit ourselves. We just leaped into the process and followed our instincts. Naturally, the final results were both wildly different and altogether perfect.
How do we extend this metaphor to making your own poem?
I want to suggest that writing poetry is both instinctive and celebratory. That is, when we are writing poems, even when they are sad (my dog died) or political (Marxism killed my dog), they are always affirmations of our will to live and our hope or belief that living matters.
When we show up at the empty page, we arrive in trust. We believe that words will come, that they will take the form that is best-suited to their content, and that we ourselves will not be found wanting as vessels.
We have to see this: that our instinct to write poetry is deeply spiritual, deeply human.
This is quite a different than being religious or doctrinal in any way. That doesn’t matter anymore than your nationality or education matters.
Poetry begins in our innate faith that witnessing to our lives and the world of our perception matters and matters quite deeply.
And that is always a reason for celebration. Human beings have always lived in a world that denies the best of what they are. We fight wars, we eat well while our neighbors starve, we suck the world dry of its resources. Just look around. It’s true today and it was true a thousand years ago. If you want a reason to feel discouraged or angry, you’ll find it.
Writing poetry is a healing response to that condition. Our words, then, can be salves but as importantly,the very process of writing is something like dancing. It is something like joy.
I want to be careful saying that. Poets have died because they picked up their pen. They are often ignored. They can be real jerks in person. I get all that. I’m not saying that the class of writers is perfect or that is has the answer.
I’m saying that you do. I’m saying that if you are willing to make your own poem, then you are willing to tap into that mysterious place where love and meaning go hand in hand. You are willing to struggle with the tides of creation that are not always gentle, not always logical. Writing, rewriting, reading, writing some more.
It is that willingness that matters – not the product that comes from it. Your poem is important, yes, but it’s hardly as important as your willingness to have written it. When we commit to writing poems, we are simultaneously committing to be better people, better lovers, better neighbors, better friends.
That may seem like a far cry from gaudy cupcakes at an eight-year old’s birthday, but it’s not. Kids know what matters and they know how to bring it to light. Then they forget.
Poets are the ones who remember.