So a strange thing happened while I was doodling and making notes about my favorite American Idol performances–I found myself writing down one of judge Harry Connick Jr’s comments, “Work on the things that are hard. Work on the things that make you uncomfortable and you will improve.”
I love that advice.
What is hard for me? What makes me uncomfortable? Poetry.
No form of writing makes me feel more stupid than poetry. I still vividly remember one of my high school teachers quoting a poem in which the narrator feels “big as a house.”
My teacher: “Of course that means she’s pregnant.”
Me: What the huh? I thought she was fat. Man, am I stupid.
Poetry plagued me in college, too. Those fat Norton anthologies contained stumps of partial stories (who wants to read part of a story?!?!?) packed between poems, poems, poems, and more poems.
I would never want to be married to a guy who wrote poems for me. Just watching contestants on the Bachelor read poems makes me squeamish.
About a year ago, I decided to tackle my poetry problem. Poetry might make me feel stupid, but fearing an entire literary genre is stupid. I bought Sage Cohen’s Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry.
Slowly I’ve read through each chapter and worked through most of the writing exercises. I’ve written a lot of bad poetry in my writing practice notebook. But I’m determined to shape a few of those messes into something worth reading. Although I did scrawl a note next to one verse-y passage, “maybe a better short story?” No. I will make it a poem first.
I can’t say that I’m comfortable with poetry yet, but I have been reading poetry before bed. I started with the accessible Billy Collins and now I can say that I’m actually enjoying Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska’s collected work. I vow to continue reading poetry–just a few poems a day. I can’t say that I understand all that I’m reading, but every now and then I feel a spark of joy when a poem speaks to me. I get it! I get it! Yes!
I’m going to continue to write poetry, even though I really do suck at it. Even though it scares me more than spiders and snakes. I do think that my study of poetry has helped me think about word choice, description, and unique phrasing in my fiction writing. Harry Connick Jr. is right: work on what’s hard, work on what’s uncomfortable and you will improve.