Saturday, January 31, 2009

Here's the story of how I came to be a poet.

I have always loved writing, and I always thought eventually I would do a lot of it. But I wound up doing just a little of it through the years because I was too busy raising children and teaching.

About five years ago, I read a little paperback book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It knocked me in the head, and I began doing quite a bit of writing, mostly nonfiction and fiction—no inspiration to write poetry. I made a study of writing—read a number of books about writing, all of which have helped me enormously.

The one I most benefited from was On Writing by Stephen King; that surprised me, as I doubted Stephen King would have anything helpful to say about writing. So when I started teaching creative writing at my community college, King's book was one of my references. One important thing he says is that no matter what you write--fantasy, poetry, whatever--it must be true in the sense that it comes from the heart; then it will speak to truth in the reader's heart.

A year ago, just before Christmas, one of my creative writing students gave me a book of collected poems to read over the weekend: Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times. I bought myself a copy and read it during the Christmas holidays and fell in love with poetry; I discovered Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Gjertrud Schnackenberg there, all wonderful poets living today. I started to write a short story, and instead, it came out as a poem. Ever since, I have written many more poems than anything else.

I read a book by Mary OliverPoetry Handbook. She said don’t send out your poetry for publication submission until you’ve been writing for a while and you are doing your very best work. So I am working on that advice. I have sent poems to contests and a couple to a journal published by our county's newspapers. I have placed and even won first in some of contests, and the journal accepted my two poems. That's exciting!

One day recently when I was very discouraged about my poetry writing, I ran across a poem by Kilian McDonnell. It was “The Monks of St. John’s File in for Prayer,” in Garrison Keillor’s poetry collection Good Poems for Hard Times. It has wonderful imagery, and I looked him up in the section in the biographical sketches of the poets. He has been a Benedictine monk and priest for over fifty years. He started writing poetry when he was 75 years old. He is 88 years old now.

So I was inspired. I said to myself, I’m only 65. I can do this! Besides, Stephen King said it doesn't matter how old you are; what matters is keeping the seat of the pants on the chair and the pen on the paper.

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