Beware the Mooning Poet!
People often view the act of writing poetry as somewhat self-centered. Don’t poets moon all too much? Aren’t they either morose or sappy? Don’t they get wrapped up in how deep and moving their words sound? Frankly, this kind of indulgence makes people uncomfortable.
Young and novice writers do often use writing to sound out their thoughts and emotions. It’s simply easier to write what we know. I have been guilty of this on many occasions. To express the unfamiliar with honesty and insight…that is a much more complex task.
Although producing only therapy-style writing is not our ultimate goal, we can’t be afraid to write trite and self-indulgent stuff sometimes. That’s how we learn – by making mistakes and constantly working to improve. Maybe we just need to choose our venues for sharing this kind of work carefully.
Think of honest but supportive close friends and loved ones, as well as certain comfortable workshop settings, as great places to gauge the me-me-me-factor of your early work. Ask specifically if you think a certain piece might be borderline — or full on — mushy or ranting.
Get Out of Your Head
Ironically, great writing – like true love – really draws us outside of ourselves. Master writers are adept at seeing from perspectives other than their own. In fact, writing should connect us with others in several ways:
- We learn to take on the point of view of a rock, a bug, a monarch, and everything in between.
- We consider the needs and yearnings of our audience/readers.
- We get feedback on our words and ideas, which we can use to improve.
- We can witness our own growth through the development of our writing over time and the ways it impacts others.
- We see ourselves as part of the human community, our job to voice the universal.
The Poet’s Aim: Fresh Eyes
A poem moves us when it topples and re-forms our perspectives. Great poets make that which is common alien to us. And that which we have never seen before they make as familiar as the living room couch.
To gift us with the eyes of a newborn – always with a flutter of human recognition – that is the poet’s job. When we read a well written poem, we think, “Yes! Yes! How true! I feel like I’ve always known that! But I never ever would have thought to put it that way!” It seems effortless, even simple, but this kind of perspective comes with practice.
To see a breathtaking example of a poem that dons another’s viewpoint, along with an article detailing a great “selfless poetry” exercise, check out “Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Meuller and the accompanying article, “To Arrive at the Vision of Gas Lamps as Angels,” by Daniel Godston in Teachers and Writers.