Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Belated Blog 4: My Writing Journey

Belated Blog 4: My Writing  Journey/Shelley Williams/Engl 3840

Just Write Now—[and] Then—Back When

My earliest “success” with writing was in junior high for a small poem called “The Eagle” that was likely my attempt at something haiku-esque. It got published in some little junior high publication.  Still in junior high, I also got a 1st place award for a poem called “Love Isn’t Visible.”  Poetry is my first love, and like Dickenson, I desire to be pithy when possible, and I sometimes succeed, other times not so much, but I also share with her the scribbling of a poem on anything available—a scrap of paper, paper napkins. I’ve probably even used toilet paper, and I am certain paper towels. When I've been blue, I've even written love notes to myself like fortune cookie notes that I hide to find later when I need them, and I usually have found them when I most needed them.

In high school, as a freshman, I wrote a little skit and titled one of the characters “Cactus Prick” and was called on it because it used the word “prick.” I had no idea what that meant then.  Later in college, I’d write a poem about Alan Ginsberg that used the “f” word, (because he did, and how could I write about hearing him reading at U of U without it?).  In last year’s Epiphany, the staff was supposed to submit work, and I submitted that piece, which was dumb considering my audience, but I didn’t feel like I wanted, nor had the time to, pop off something new.  I withdrew it and my other stuff.  No one “got” them, and I suppose I learned that everything needs to be written and perhaps submitted from some sense of “present moment” immediacy and audience awareness that those poems didn’t have anymore.  After all, that’s the beauty of poetry--its ability to put you into a moment of time with freshness of images and/or voice.

While a graduate student I had served as the poetry and publication editor of USU’s literary journal (at that time called Crucible, which had most often been published as a special edition of the campus newspaper.  With the help of fellow graduate student colleagues, we were able to get a grant and produce a hardbound copy for the first time in a long time.  My interest in poetry was dashed a bit when I tried to take a 4000-level course my Freshman year called Modern Poetry, which I retook later, having skipped class so many times because "The Wasteland" was just too hard to digest as a freshman. Once I was in an M.A. program, I took the poetry writing course twice.  My major professor, the now-deceased Kenneth Brewer, a former Utah Poet Laureate, liked my work about half the time and said I had a natural sense for line breaks, and the other half of the time he felt I wasn’t putting forth my best effort and was just doing “exercises.”  That’s a pretty accurate assessment—at least halfway.  After all, that’s why I like poetry—it can be just an exercise to get me thinking in a new direction, terse or not, or it can be a full-blown epic poem on the death of my first dog (my longest poem to date though I did not write it for either of those classes because it hadn't happened yet).

We also were able to submit “blind” submissions to the journal the year I was publication and poetry editor, and I did that with a personal narrative called “Safe on the Edge” about my own father’s disappearance and death (found six months after his disappearance [right here in Ogden]).  A peer grad student said it was “confessional,” but the way she said it made me feel like that was a slur.  I took second place, so I guess it worked at the time.

I read a paper at a LSU/Texas A&M Conference of Language and Literature while a grad student (the only one selected from USU, maybe the only submission).  Even after these few published items, I used to struggle with calling myself a writer as I wasn’t widely published, nor had I tried to be so.  I essentially use writing as a way of thinking aloud on paper, of discovering what I think.  I think, therefore I write.  And I’ve discovered, that’s okay.

I journal and enjoy it and spawn many poems from it, though I go for long periods of not writing at all. Often I just get too busy living that I don’t write or my writing is restricted to note-taking (I believe Sarte said something about doing/choosing one or the other—living or writing), but I am most at peace when I am doing both/and (how’s that for almost ending on a conjunction?).  I used to tell my students (that I taught as a TA and also a semester in 2000 as an instructor in a misnamed program called SUCCESS) that you have to know the rules to break them. I still believe that.  Poetry will always be my first love for that reason—anything is possible--from formal rhyme meters to form poetry, to blank verse, (etc., [as I am being too lazy to look up or name all the kinds of poetry there are]). I’ve heard and agree that poetry is like pornography—it’s hard to name it, but you know it when you see it.  I know poetry when I write it; I write it to know it in my life.  Writing is a way I can find myself and my place in this world. It helps me examine my life and my heart, and the unexamined life or heart is always worth re-examining.


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