This week I’ve been reading A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (she’s the poet famous for the line, “what is it youÂ plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”). Here’s one of my favorite sections:
Writing a poem … is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.
[The heart] learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself–soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.
Just more evidence that being a great writer is less about talent and more about hard work. Which is actually pretty comforting even if it does at the same time threaten my usual list of excuses. Still, I can’t shake the idea that it’s something I can do. Should do.
Then last night I finally got to hear Natasha Trethewey (the US Poet Laureate) read her work. It was enchanting, to say the least. And toward the end of the evening she was asked the question, “Why write poetry instead of one of the other genres?” She laughed because it’s a question she gets often. Her answer is perfect, in my opinion:
Poetry is the best repository for our most humane and just expressions of feeling.
Next week I’m off to STORY Chicago! I imagine I’ll come back full of new drafts, don’t you think?