I think, one of the best lessons I ever conducted, was with a small group of workshop attendees at Rockland Community College, in Rockland County, New York. There were about ten “would-be”” poets who felt the urge to write but, were unsure of how to go about it. And so, they decided to attend my workshop.
The first couple of sessions, we went through the obvious lessons: What is Poetry; What Makes a Poem a Poem; What Poetry Techniques Should I Use? And then, in our fourth workshop, I asked them to write a poem entitled: Why I Write Poetry. At first, everyone seemed excited about the idea, and I imagine they went home and started writing that very evening. But, when they came back to the next workshop, not one of the attendees had a completed poem to share. The question, it seems, was harder to answer, than they had thought.
“Why do I write poetry?” I have, over the span of sixty + years, asked myself that question many times. Why write my sorrow? Why write my anger, disappointment, hope, fear, love, loss? Why? I’ve lain sleepless, many nights, trying to answer that question for myself. I’ve even tried answering that question by writing poems. The answer, it would seem, is different for all of us. We write, inspired by different things, driven by different passions, compelled by a variety of emotions.
In the end, I believe, I write because to not write would be to emotionally explode. Poetry is for me, a way of releasing pressure, explaining (to myself) what I am feeling, why I am feeling it, and ultimately, how to deal with it – whatever “it” may be. If that poem speaks to someone else, that’s the icing on the cake. If it doesn’t, but it gave me the release I needed, allowed me to cleanse my heart and mind, then the poem was, ultimately successful.
What I told my workshop that day, when no one offered a poem based on “why I write poetry, was that you write, we all write, first and foremost, for ourselves. We write poetry because it is the only way, the safest way, the most cleansing way we know, to accommodate and survive the highs and lows of life.
The next workshop, when I asked if anyone wanted to share their poem, every hand went up. One of the lines, in one of the poems has stuck with me all these years. The young woman wrote, “I write because I have no gift for painting.” She was a creatively energetic young woman with a need to express herself creatively. She had tried painting, thinking that her calling, and found it to be beyond her abilities. But words, words, and emotions, she had those, in abundance and went on to write beautiful, meaningful poetry.
My lesson this week, is a simple one. To write poetry, good poetry, first understand why you write. Ask yourself, demand of yourself an answer to the question, “Why do I write Poetry?” When the poem offers you the answer, you will have become a better, more profound poet.