Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why I will never be a poet; or, When in Doubt, Blame Your Childhood

For those who don't know, I stink at writing poetry. 

To read my fiction, you might reasonably think I would be an all right poet. My fiction is all language, images, rhythm, sound. Further, I haven't the vaguest sense of plot, so lyric poetry really sounds like it would be my kinda thang. 

Au contraire, my friend, au contraire. I am a debacle with the poetic form. Even narrative poetry. And I've decided to locate my failure in childhood. 

You see, my crowning poetry achievement came in the 4th grade. A poem I wrote about rain (what else do 4th graders write poetry about?) was chosen - among who knows how many others - to be displayed at the Carnegie Library (or Museum?) in Oakland. I wish I had more details about the whys and wherefores of their displaying elementary school students' poetry, but I do not. Why? you ask. B/c my family didn't take me to see the display. 

Imagine what a success I might be today if only I'd had the opportunity to glimpse my poem set upon a public pedestal, if I'd felt that thrill and pride. Imagine what inspiration I might have taken from my success and how that would have motivated me to write, write, write. I could've been winning a damn Pulitzer as we speak, for all you know. (Not impossible - at 29, Annie Dillard won in nonfiction for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. But she's supposed to be a mean person. Which matters.) 

Instead, my most worthy achievements in poetry are sad, sad things. Once upon a time (during the last year of my MFA), I won honorable mention in a university-wide competition (read: small and insignificant) for a 7-line poem about Rasputin. (It was at least sophisticated enough to allude to WCW's "The Red Wheelbarrow"!) I think that brought me a whopping $50. Last year, I won second place ($100 this time) in a city-wide poetry competition for people under 30 (or something). But that was a small, small city (not Pittsburgh).

Alas, I shall have to blame my parents for my failure as a poet. Perhaps it was their busy schedules, or maybe a general cluelessness about the central importance of that event in my burgeoning identity as a writer. 

Rest assured that, now that I've remembered this little situation, I will remind my mother of it tomorrow at church and attempt to induce much guilt.

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