I write fiction! Poetry is not my thing!

A funny thing’s been happening lately: poetry. Oh, sure, poetry happens all the time, but not in my life.

Fiction is my first love – completely, undeniably – but there is a part of me that wishes I could be a poet. I was at Bread Loaf in 2007 and invariably when a poet asked the “what do you write?” question and I said fiction, he or she would say, “I wish I could write fiction, but I just can’t do it.” That’s how I feel about poetry, too. There’s a way a poet’s brain works that’s just not how mine operates.

(As an aside, few fiction writers that I’ve ever known have the same approach to nonfiction as they do to poetry. If you write fiction, you assume – and everyone else assumes – that you can also write nonfiction, and for a lot of writers it does work that way. But not for me. Nonfiction makes me feel like a lumbering, bumbling idiot.)

I do like poetry – reading it, hearing it read especially. But writing it? Hm. I like the idea of taking an idea or an image or a thought and running with it – but not running too far or too long, running until it’s done and then stopping. Or starting something new. You can do this in fiction too of course, but it’s a different sort of thing. I guess that’s where “prose poetry” comes from. And though I would never classify my shorts as “prose poetry,” maybe that’s where my impulse to write short-short-short fiction comes from, wanting to dabble in poetry…

In my travel writing class, we’re reading Poets on Place, which is a sort of silly little book about a poet taking a road trip to interview other poets. A vast disappointment in the actual poetry department (seriously, some of the poets have NO POEMS included and most of the ones that do have only one – wtf!), but the interviews are great. Especially now getting to work on my Thesis and really thinking about my approach to place and what it means for me as a writer and for my work. Could there be any better book to be assigned? There’s no way I would have picked it up on my own, but I’m enjoying it. There’s more I want to say about the book and the experience, but this is about poetry so I’ll save that mess for another time.

After class last Thursday I went home and – gasp – tried to write poetry. They’re truly terribly scraps of deplorable writing, but I felt invigorated. I thought I would give it a try, fail, and go back to my beloved fiction.

Until.

Last night my (fiction writing workshop) class went to the When She Named Fire book launch. It’s an anthology of contemporary women poets and an event that I probably would not have chosen to go to on my own, but I went with my class and had a good time. I even recognized some names of women who were published, including Toi Derricotte (who once read at my undergrad) and Sheryl St. Germain (who is the director of my program, so…of course I know her), they both read, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly (I fell in writer-love with her at Bread Loaf).

It’s incredible the breadth of subject matter, just from the tiny selection of poems that were read. Joe sent me an article on Salon the other day, something like, “why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel?” and I guess part of the age-old reasoning is that men (supposedly) write all about adventure and intrigue – stuff we all want to hear about – and women (supposedly) write all about family and love and who cares about all that drek? (That’s a gross oversimplification, if not a deliberate misreading, of the article.) But last night – everything from love and sex to death and drugs, idenity, isolation, triumph. It was wonderful. Even as a non-poet it was powerful, empowering.

Of course by the time it was over my butt and back were aching from those silly chairs and I was ready to go home and go to bed, but that has nothing to do with the poets and everything to do with my full-time-job-full-time-school life.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to “write poetry,” but I think I will start seeking out more of it. Starting with that anthology!

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