The Stages of “Becoming” a Poet


Very nearly every poet began writing for the same reasons.  We (the vast majority of us) started writing for the sake of expression or venting.  We had some emotion, image or thought that we needed to express somewhere, and it came out on paper.  These are usually terrible bits of poetry.  Quite often, they are teen-aged, melancholic laments of heartache or other ill-worded cries for attention.  Thankfully, this is only where we start.


Perhaps we’ve shown our poem to someone, perhaps they said they liked it.  If I may state, lay-persons, family, friends, or anyone you are familiar with, but does not possess a working knowledge of poetry, likely will not be the most accurate opinion.  Still, options are limited, and so we show our poem to someone, hoping for recognition or rejection.  This is not fair.  Effectively, we are asking someone who wouldn’t know the difference between Walt Whitman and Walt Disney, to decide if you should become a poet.  In context, we see why this is perhaps not the most useful opinion, though well-intentioned it may be.  Also, those that are unfamiliar with poetry almost always respond with the following vague response: “I like it.”  Or: “It’s pretty, I like it.”  Followed by: “Have you ever thought about publishing anything?”  That is quite literally the worst thing a person can say at that moment.  Should the conversation go as above, you are almost undoubted speaking to someone who knows approximately as much about poetry as you do.  The truth is, we need to avoid input at that stage.  We are too young, too inexperienced (as poets, biology aside) to be ‘good’ yet.  Accepting that is a big step.


We’ve made it over a sizable hurdle; accepting that we have far more desire than we have skill.  We want to write, we just don’t really know how, or what to write.  Naturally, we write everything, and this is healthy.  We learn what sounds good, what words flow well together, what images don’t work, and what ideas are more easily described.  We may even learn things that we like to write about, or places we like to write from.  Sure, the quality is still pretty low, but by now, we’ve written at least one that we’re pretty proud of, for now.  This stage is fun, it’s exciting, and it’s where we first begin to sink our teeth into the concept.  Somewhere in here, we’ve decided to emulate a certain poet.  This, thankfully, doesn’t last very long.


We’ve written quite a bit, or so we believe, and we have decided to broaden our horizons.  As we sit back smugly, we now take the time to flip through a few books of poetry from ‘famous poets’.  We then realize we still have no skill.  This is usually where the first depression kicks in, and we usually use that, writing our way out and back to sanity.  In our enlightening moment, however, we learned something valuable.  We see how others have written.  We notice that there are different forms of poetry, styles and schools, even.  We realize that poems don’t have to rhyme.  We believe that we have found the secret to it all, and we read everything we can find.


Now that we ‘understand’ poetry, we must write it!  That piece that we were proud of?  We shudder at the thought of claiming it and try to bury the memory by writing something new, something better.  We try every new style and form we’ve found, we even get around to picking out favorite poets, and we have a pretentious little celebration in our minds for having the ability to do so.  This stage is fun, and we get the beginnings for some good pieces out of it, hopefully.  If not, we at least get a better idea of how we want to write.  We begin networking with other amateurs and comparing work.


We have found our comfort zone and declared ourselves poets!  We know what we write, we know how we write it, and we are quite pleased about it.  We write regularly, we produce quality, and can discern between stronger and weaker pieces.  We’ll stay here for a while, until…


Writer’s block is angry, and it wants us all to suffer its wrath.  Enter depression number 2.  The well is dry, the parrot is dead, the muse is…not present, we have nothing.  We are miserable.  We are convinced, all is lost, we are failures, the words have abandoned us.  Then, one day, we figure out that we’re melodramatic children, and we start writing again, usually about self, and how foolish we are.  This works for a while, until we get bored…


We’re done with reading amateurs, we just can’t stomach it any more.  We have written everything.  We’re too young to have written everything, but we’re pretty sure we have.  Nothing inspires us, nothing surprises us, we are miserable.  We may even swear off writing, which lasts maybe a week.  After our triumphant return, which far more closely resembles a crawling back-to, we assess our library of work.  We then determine that we haven’t actually written anything.


We begin to reflect, as we’ve grown older and (hopefully) wiser.  We write our reflections, we write honestly, and we begin to realize that we’ve had it all along.  The path was the poetry, the entire experience, and the writing of it as it happened.  We realize that all advice was useless, despite its well-meant nature.  We are infuriating to the younger members of the poetic community.  We smile at the haste of youth and continue at our comfortable pace.


We exist, we know what we are, and what we are not.  We write, or we do not.  The title is unimportant, and our expectations are low, but finally, we have permitted ourselves to simply exist, and write.  We pay little heed to the thoughts and writing advice of those surrounding us, we rarely ask for someone to offer opinion.  We just write, because it’s what we know to do, it’s what we are.


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