An Occasional Poet
An image or a cluster of words starts forming around an idea, possibly at an inopportune time, like while I’m driving home from work. If I can hold the thought long enough to get home, I run up the front steps of my house, fumbling with my keys and hopping on one foot as if I have to pee, kick my heels off in the hallway, throw my purse on the dining room table, and start jotting down the idea on whatever piece of paper I find before it evaporates into nothingness. I write down the first few words or lines, and if I am lucky, I keep going for a few more lines with only a vague direction of where the initial thought or concept is going. It is this stage of the process that I find most thrilling—both in the sense of sheer exhilaration of a new poem being created and a deep dark dread that I may not be able to push through until the poem is complete, and the main idea– the hook– will be lost forever. I write down as much as I have in me at the moment.
It has happened that I write a whole poem in one short sitting, in one gulp. The way those poems slink out of me surprises me every time. Have I subconsciously carried them in me for a while? Are they truly fresh? I don’t know. Typically, those poems are shorter in length and need minimal revision. More often than not, I come up with something that is not quite a poem, but close. Sometimes it’s just a skeleton of a poem, needing more meat on its bones; other times, it is a collection of random parts that need to be arranged around the main frame. The next day, first thing in the morning, I transcribe those notes onto my laptop. Typing, at this point, is both writing and revising. I may add a few more lines or a stanza; I move words and lines around; I delete, re-type, and delete the same word repeatedly; I replace words with better synonyms. This part of the process is more craft than art– I play around with the poem, having a little more hope and confidence that it will result in a finished piece. Some poems don’t require any additional attention. I return to them anyway after a few days and make minor edits. Others need more work. I revisit them occasionally; I finish some poems in a matter of days…or years. I am not in a hurry.
I am not really a poet. I am a full-time higher education administrator and an occasional adjunct instructor (not writing-related). I run a household in an Old-World fashion, just like my mother: dust-free and fresh-from-the–oven. Between kid activities, adult gatherings and occasional travel, my social life is relatively vibrant. Since I am a busy woman, and since I don’t consider myself a poet, I am free of all the pressure, expectations, anticipation, and disappointment that poets seem to experience. I write, and sometimes what I write gets published. The writing part should make me feel like a poet, but it doesn’t. Writing is something I do sporadically, in short bursts. The publishing part makes other people view me as a poet, and I am hesitant to accept the title, perhaps because I am outside the tight literary circles, or because I don’t suffer sufficiently for my art. I don’t set aside a time to write. I don’t have a designated workspace in my house for writing—no pretty desk with a view; actually, no desk at all. I don’t belong to a writer’s group. I have never attended a writing workshop. I write in English, my second language.
Ever since I could read, I have enjoyed reading poetry. In my native Macedonia, poetry is not assigned an exclusive status. It is a part of the national and cultural heritage and a part of the contemporary public discourse. Reading it is not reserved only for the highly educated, literary types. Having come from a background where poetry is frequently read, discussed and enjoyed, I was surprised to find out that in the United States, the sort of public life of poetry is rather limited. As Dana Gioia discussed in “Can Poetry Matter,” a 1991 Atlantic Monthly essay, poetry in the US is confined to the colleges and universities and the MFA programs and English departments within them. The audience for current poets is other poets. Gioia, much like Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams, is a rare example of a poet who had a job outside academia—he went to business school and worked in the corporate world until 1992, when he began writing full-time. I feel a natural affinity for Gioia and the rest of the poets with day jobs. I wonder if they considered themselves poets first and foremost or doctors/lawyers who happened to write poetry.
It hardly matters. I write poetry for the same reason that I read it—for its wonderful ability to elevate the everyday to the sublime, for the way it speaks to humanity in a personal and universal level and of course, for the sheer pleasure of it.
Our Columnist Natasha Garrett is a higher education professional and a mother of one boy, among other things. Originally from Macedonia, she lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she writes personal essays and poetry on the topics of bilingualism and living across cultures.
Check out her poem “Mothers in Politics” also released today.