This week I have been re-teaching myself on the art of poetry by reading “The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry” by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. It is a wonderful book that I highly recommend for anyone serious about writing poetry. The book is conversational in tone and it gives you a wealth of examples from contemporary poets and it teaches you to write honestly.
However, I want to focus on two demons that ride almost every writer’s back and poets in particular: Self doubt and writer’s block. The authors chose to leave these two for the end of the book in a section called “The Writing Life”
As a writer, you doubt if anyone will read your crap. Yes. I said crap, because as you are writing down what you call a masterpiece, you have that little bite in the side of your mind that screams: “BUT THE WORLD HAS READ BETTER!” Then your thoughts stray to those accomplished poets who win poetry slams and monetary contests all the time. Those poets who get published by traditional publishers and get a nice advance because for some reason their stuff wasn’t crap but your is? There is someone who felt like you do- Sylvia Plath(1932-1963).
In entry after entry, Plath exhorted herself to become a better person, to take more detailed notes on the lives around her so she could turn them into fiction(Addonizio & Laux, 1997, p. 196)
Plath ended up killing herself with cooking gas at the young age of 30 and her collection of poetry, Ariel was found and published. A stunning work. However she pushed herself too hard and that could have been her struggle in the very end.
Here’s a little poem
about my foe
a pest, a bugger that needs to be
drawn out with
tossed in a wastebasket.
that impudent little critter
who flies by my head,
kisses my arm to
suck the blood
So, what is the cure to self-doubt? We all have it and we don’t like it but it is a constant in our life hovering like a plane about to drop on our heads. What is the cure to keep going on even if we don’t end up famous with our own books on the bookshelves or on television someday sitting with Oprah?
According to Addonizio and Laux, you can play God. If there is ever a way to defeat a demon like self-doubt it is to be the Source. When you write initially, it is for your eyes only. Have fun with what you are saying. In your writing you can be and do anything you want and after all, that is why it’s called “creative writing”- creating things sometimes take time to get noticed and appreciated but don’t stop writing if it is your passion. Even Dr. Seuss’s books were rejected numerous times before getting picked up. Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight was rejected a number of ten times according to some interviews.
The next pitfall for poets is writer’s block. This is akin to “excuses”. Addonizio and Laux say, “There is no such thing as writer’s block. We believe there are times when you are empty and times when you are full.”(199). If that is the case, when you feel empty you need to refuel. One good advice they give is to write about why you can’t write.
Spend some time and write about that obstacle you feel is in your way because you can’t see it.
I long to feel the
wind of the whip
cracking in my ear,
to lend me over to
that poem across the
This advice is suitable for anyone who wishes to write. I thought I’d help you out a bit because I feel there is an awesome poet/storyteller inside of you waiting to burst free but you have fears and imagined impediments before you.