I don’t know too many poets including myself, who as they discover a proclivity for the written word don’t let their mind take to flights of fancy because they feel as though their writing is the best that has ever graced the planet. Like no one else since the beginning of human civilization has ever crafted together words to describe the indescribable…wrong, wrong, WRONG.
Whether we choose to realize it or not, folks have been writing about the same subject matter for several millennia and because we sometimes fail to acknowledge this, some of the best poetry one could ever read never gets read. Which brings me to an important detail all poets should heed…read read READ!!!
Not just your own work but the works of others as well…maybe in exploring the inked thoughts of those who precede US, one can uncover the mystery that makes writers like Pablo Neruda or Nikki Giovanni papyrus immortals. I know reading other writers might be hard to do especially when you’ve just written a masterpiece that puts Langston Hughes’ catalog to shame, but trust me it works.
See my LOVE affair with poetry began not with the lines of Sappho but with the lyrics of Rakim and the songwriting of Gamble & Huff; for it was rhythmic poetry that first seduced my mind. Once the love affair with palabras intensified I was able to move on to the Gwendolyn Bennett’s and Kahlil Gibran’s of the world, but when I first started writing poetry, I could see a lot of the mistakes I was making in my own work because of reading others.
You know the usual suspects…repeating the same word 50 different times in one piece, using the hell out of conjunctions (particularly as, but, for, of, or, that, etc.), switching from an active voice to a passive voice, misspelling, and my favorite…mixing up homonyms and homophones.
While grammatical errors can be fixed with proofreading and practice, one element that’s difficult to rectify is style. Writing styles that tend to leave an impact with me are those that show a reader instead of telling them. What does this mean? Simply paint a picture with your words that the mind’s eye has never seen. We all know what trees are and what grass is and what the air does, but if you can wrap metaphoric euphoria around these every day occurrences and make them seem new, then you’re one step closer to becoming the poet you dream you can be.
As Audre Lorde once said, There are no new ideas there are only new ways of making them felt.
I don’t know about you, but what I enjoy is when people FEEL what I write. Not FEEL it because they know me but because it touched a place that is familiar yet fallible. For their genuine responses have come to symbolize connectivity to something that is larger than myself.
I realize not every poet seeks to become a household name…for some their breathings upon the page represent a healing of the spirit and they share in an attempt to inspire others to heal themselves as well. I like to think one day I can nestle myself firmly into this category…but until that time the learning continues…
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