I’m learning how to read poetry again. Which is to say, I’m learning how to write poetry again. After over a year of silence, I can hear my inner voice, thinking big dreams and thoughts as it used to. Between my last post in April 2017 and this one, I’ve read thousands of articles and many books but, as sentimental as it may sound, my heart wasn’t in it for personal and professional reasons.
As an editor, I’ve discovered what many professional creatives in NYC must encounter: That the plan of finding a day job to pursue the real work they love (in my case, writing) is hard to execute in reality. And as someone who firmly believes in “You are what you read,” I found that reading countless articles for my jobs silenced the poet in me.
In my line of work, being “first” to cover a story and social media-friendliness seem to be privileged over critical thinking and craft. Glibness can pass for personality. Sincerity is dismissed as earnestness. And it’s paramount that you have an opinion, no matter the issue du jour, even though it may not be supported by reasoned logic. Noise is noise is noise.
My intention is not to denigrate an entire industry and its professionals.To be part of the chaotic ecosystem that is digital media has been fascinating, despite the doubts it provokes. The poet Richard Wilbur once said, “The strength of a genie comes of his being confined in a bottle,” and I see how social media and SEO have transformed and empowered communities by redefining parameters.
So why keep going? One reason: So I won’t go crazy. A writer has to write. It’s not enough to just think.
Another reason: To keep making noise, in hopes that someone will listen eventually. In college, a friend once said that the ideal relationship with a book involved a sense of discovery. “Don’t you remember,” he had asked, “the feeling when you chose a book at random from the shelf, and it changed you?”
Yes, I remember my encounters with such books as though they were events somehow designed by fate. Finding William Arrowsmith’s out-of-print translation of Cesare Pavese’s Hard Labor in a Baltimore bookstore. Or Yōko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor as I was clicking through recs on Amazon. And still others, which were given to me by teachers or friends. The takeaway from each was specific to the moment and book, but all gave me a sense of being understood.
Months ago, as I walked through the San Francisco International Airport, I read an Ernest Hemingway quote that was featured in an exhibit about typewriters:
I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”
The thing to do, then, is write, to write through the crappy drafts and anxiety. For a year I grieved over the possibility that I’d never write a strong poem again. But I chose to believe that, and look! — it became truth.
Since then, a lot has happened. I’ve moved out of my beloved Astoria to Rego Park. My roommate of nearly three years and I parted ways. My poetry will be featured in an exhibit at the Queens Historical Society (more to come in a later post). I’m traveling more. I’ve written a book review on Kaveh Akbar‘s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, which is forthcoming in Blackbird, as well as a poem, and several articles. Small steps, to be sure, but it’s exciting to start over.