Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Apology to an Old Friend

Poetry was my very first friend in writing.

And... I have come to realize that I owe her an apology.

Before poetry, yes, I had dictated stories to my mother (who was secretly delighted to trick me into learning about that sort of thing) and she had written them down and then had me illustrate them. But the first time that I sat down, pen in hand, and wrote in my own misspelled, messy handwriting, I wrote a poem. I don't remember how old I was (I was in single digits) but I remember what it was about. Deer. It was supposed to be a funny poem, and people were polite enough to laugh at the ‘funny’ parts when I recited it at a cowboy poetry session my uncle took me to. 

He was thrilled. I was thrilled. And I’ve been hooked on writing ever since.

I wrote more poems after that, and they improved. It wasn't hard to improve from where I started... :) And then I discovered humor writing, and I began to write my own miniscule humor pieces. Some were only a paragraph. And then one would be a page. Three or four pages and I felt like I was doing really good.

Then I wrote this fifteen page piece that I loved, because when I wrote it I wasn’t planning on showing it to ANYONE, I wrote it for myself because I liked it. It’s still one of my favorite pieces – a short humorous story about two boys at a dance. It was where I learned about the importance of character arc and character growth, although I had no idea what either thing was at the time.

The poetry began to slide, although I still wrote it now and again, when I needed to express something that I couldn’t in another way.

A 32 page short story came out of me next – a love story, for pete’s sake! I was only sixteen, and I couldn’t stand the thought of having written a love story so I denied it for a long time. I called it a relationship story. And then – I turned it into a 120 page novella. I still have the novella. And no one else ever will. But it’s a book that holds a happy spot in my soul. Sort of like good memories of ex-girlfriend can still warm your heart, but there’s no WAY you’d ever go back to her and you’re almost embarrassed you dated her in the first place.

As all this occurred, I began to forget poetry. Well, not forget. But I began to regard it as being something that was all right to play with or impress girls with, but really SERIOUS writers like myself wrote big, serious things… I had my sights set on a full-size novel by this point, and it took quite a bit to get me to care about poetry.

I know. It was stupid. In my own defense, I can be a moron sometimes. And also in my own defense, there is quite a lot of really bad poetry out there and it can be easy to get disillusioned about it. In fact, I think poetry might be one of our most abused literary forms, although novels are close followers.

Fast forward.

I’ve finished a book that I love in a way I’ve never loved anything else I’ve written. It’s a YA novel, complete at about 43,000 words, and I have worked and worked and worked on those words, painstakingly read them again and again, changed them, wrestled with them, cried over them. Gave up, came back, gave up, came back again. It’s taken me years, and in those years this book has become a dear and close old friend. It isn't a perfect friend, not by a very, very long shot. And we're not friends because it was easy to be friends, but because it was so, dang, hard.

I felt myself to be a real writer. And (I feel ashamed) I regarded poets and poetry as dreaming and dabbling.

Well… for Christmas, my mother gave me a book of children’s poetry. My first thought was: "Oh, that’s nice. Great illustrations."

That day, when I was alone, I picked it up again and opened it to casually glance through it.

And my first friend, poetry, found me again. I was gently reminded that I had forgotten her.

I'd forgotten words for the sake of their sweet goodness. Words arranged for the sake of meaning you can’t even say with words, written by people who most likely knew they wouldn’t ever be made wealthy or even very famous by doing so... in fact, they were probably made poor. But they wrote these words anyway because they loved them. In my novelist’s world of first line hooks, agent queries, terse dialogue, scene pacing, plot tension etc. ad infinitum, reading that poetry book was a great relief. It was like getting off a roller coaster to go and swing on a quiet playground swing for a bit.

As I’ve kept reading from that book, almost daily, it's brought back memories of when I was a kid writing poetry just because I loved it. Seriously, those are some of the most fun, exhilarating writing memories I have. Not saying that I'm going to become a poet now, or even that being a novelist is bad, or that I haven't had wonderful experiences otherwise... but... I think perhaps I'll write, and read, more poems. Spend some more time on the swings, just enjoying, and not thinking about getting anywhere.

So here’s my apology, my old friend poetry – I'm sorry I forgot you. That was dumb. I won't do that again. 


  1. Do we get to know the name of the mystery book you got for christmas?

  2. Augh! Crucial information withheld! Sars! The book is:

    by Caroline Kennedy
    New York Times bestseller.

    Old-school, classic poetry.