i am not a poet – strange musings

My first attempts at poetry were like this:

My name is Ling/ I am a king/ I live in a tall building/ I lost my ring

– Me, a long, long time ago

Though I have no memory of this particular composition, my parents do like to remind me of my poetic starting.

Around a couple of years ago, while still under the illusion that all poetry had to rhyme, I wrote (atrocious) poems like this:

Howls/ In the night/ A lone wolf/ Flees in fright

– Me, three years ago

And this:

Metallic smile plastered/ Forced courage mustered/ Strands of light strewn/ Across never-ending gloom

– Me, three years ago

It’s not difficult to say that I rather ventured away from kings and rings and fully engaged in my fourteen-year-old emo self. I wanted to write about Big Topics such as life, death, love, loss, grief, guilt, etc. I even wrote a poem titled “Human Nature”. Now, as I look back on these attempts, I laugh and cringe ever so slightly, knowing full well that I had given these poems to several of the high schools I was applying to.

I’ve been writing for as long as I remember, and I think my roots as a writer just might’ve started out from writing poetry. Poetry for me (at that age) was the easiest way of telling a story. Eighteen words could encapsulate a whole novel of a king trying to find his ring (though not well, of course), and simple words strung together could bring forth terrifying images.

But since three years ago, I’ve distanced myself away from poetry, partially in fear of what the bad poetry I write, partially afraid of actual poetry itself. Poetry, in my opinion, was perhaps the most inaccessible and unfathomable out of all the written arts. Short stories being the second. I didn’t get poetry, I would say, that’s why I don’t read it.

My fear for poetry lasted until last year, when I took an independent study with my head of school, a poet herself. We read poets like e. e. cummings and wrote and read our poems. I was terrified. My other classmate has quite a lot of experience with the art, while I only had a handful of pseudo existential angst.

But as we moved through the year, I started to write vulnerable poems, niche poems, poems that heightened my awareness of my memories and self, poems that didn’t work, poems that did. Whenever my teacher or classmate would comment positively on an image or the choice of line break, I swelled in both pride and guilt. Their compliments seemed genuine but if my poetry wasn’t, could their interpretation be? They analyzed parts I didn’t even think much about, commentating on how this connects to that when I would’ve never thought about it. I felt unreal. My poetry flat.

Recently, I received my first piece of criticism on a published piece. It was harsh, and even though I’m not going to share it here, it goes something like this: “Except for one exceptional line, the rest of the poem was a basket of images that contributed to nothing what so ever.” – some guy

It was somewhat disheartening, but I was glad, even ecstatic when I first read it. It felt like someone had finally called me out. That my art was pretentious. His criticism was comforting. I could rest in his words, my mind seemed finally at ease that someone had told me my poetry was not good, that my images were more like a essay in creative form.

I am not a poet, which is probably not the best thing to announce because I do enjoy reading and writing poetry, and have had poetry published in two journals.

Maybe this will change, and one day I will feel comfortable in the form. Maybe one day I’ll stop asking myself how to write poetry and what exactly is a poem not because I know, maybe because I’ve come to terms that I will never know. Why poetry? is another favorite of mine. What does it do?

I am ambivalent about being a poet, that is to say, I have strong feelings that go each way. I think sometimes poetry is beautiful, other times it just confuses me. Maybe that was meant to be. But does it really matter? It’s rather hard to communicate exactly what’s been on my mind ever since I got that piece of criticism, but I’m trying my best. I guess I’m a writer, after all.

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