I had written so poorly for so long, that when I wrote [the short story], “Where the Sea Used to Be,” I didn’t immediately recognize it as being that much better. But later, I remembered thinking that good writing was as much a way of looking at the world as it was a process or technique of writing. –Rick Bass, interview with Kevin Breen, Poets & Writers, May/June 1993, p21.
I’m still working through quirks and issues with considering myself a poet. While I’ve been something of a writer for over two decades, it’s just recently I’ve included poetry possibly in the mix. My problem has mostly been due to holding poetry and poets above myself and my abilities. Such high regard I’ve held for both, there was no way a schlub like me could reach that high. Sure, I’d dabbled once or twice, but I immediately remanded myself, returning my hands back inside the vehicle.
And then Western Slope poets came to town, one February evening this year. Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, a Facebook friend whose workshop I’d taken last July, emailed me after she’d gotten home, expressing surprise that I’d not read anything at the evening’s open mic. When I explained that I didn’t see myself as a poet, although poets had been quite welcoming to me, Rosemerry’s reply was sharply elegant:
You are a poet.
When April arrived, it was because of Rosemerry that I was included in a FB poetry group whose members posted daily poems due to it being National Poetry Month. With the exception of the first two days, I posted something new each day in April; and I was looking through some of them, last night. The local independent bookstore will be having its second annual Rapid Fire Salute to the Written Word, this evening, which I’ve been invited (once again) to participate in, so I was searching for something of mine to read that’s short. But with the distance and perspective brought by time, I was cringing hard at most of my April Poem submissions. See, not so much a poet, I said to myself.
Yet, here’s the thing. While the crafting of those poems may indeed have been cringe-worthy, they each had a perspective, a way of viewing and seeing the world that distinguished them.
Can writing be taught? Well, the techniques and crafting might be teachable; but you’ve either have the eye for what’s worth writing about or you don’t. Without being able to detect and discern that “heaven in a grain of sand,” you’re left with what Salman Rushdie has called, “humorless, bloodless competence.”
So, yeah, no surprise so many of my poems still need so much work. After all, one: I was cranking them out, one per day; and two, even though I’ve a couple decades of writing under my pen, I’m still new to writing poetry. So, never mind the structural work that’s still needed—that’s the easy part. Any house builder will tell you, it’s the foundation that’s the hardest and most important to get right.