Fall in! Fall in!

Sage CohenProductive writing, The life poetic0 Comments

Just write. I know it sounds cliche or simplistic, but nothing else will teach you to write. You can take a million classes, read a thousand books, but the only way to learn is to put your hand to paper or the keyboard and get started. Imagine a novice baker who read all the cookbooks in the world but never made a cake. So, just write. If it falls flat or gets burnt the first, and hundredth, time, that’s okay. It might not feel like it, but you’re getting better each time.” – Shanna Germain

Poet Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, says that in a strategy engineered to impress the girls as a young man, he called himself a poet and carried around large, impressive books to prove it. After a few years, it occurred to him that if he was going to be a poet, he’d better start writing poems. And so he did––to much eventual critical acclaim.

This seems to be a common phenomenon: people fancy themselves poets without doing the work of writing poems because this reflection appeals to them. I don’t particularly object to this approach; a poet is as worthy an ideal as any I’ve ever come across. And as was the case with Kooser, maybe the combination of identifying as a poet and carrying around a few fabulous props are all you’ll need to grease the wheels of your own poetic process…such that one day you awaken and find yourself writing poems!

I’ve also observed the opposite: people who have been writing poems passionately, privately for years and never think to call themselves a poet. Some of us believe that the identity of “poet” is earned only via publication or some other type of public recognition. It’s no surprise that we hold ourselves in this light, since this is largely how the outer world judges and validates poets: we are deemed legitimate once we have we have something to show in the way of commerce. I noticed among my own community of wonderful, supportive friends and family (who had little experience with or understanding of poetry) a significant shift in regard for me when I was granted a fellowship to study poetry in a graduate creative writing program. Suddenly, because a large and respectable institution said that my poetry was worthy of a financial reward, there seemed to be consensus that I was A Poet.

Having the support of one’s community is nice, and being paid to study and write poetry is even better. But neither of these can make or break a poet. As I see it, poets are simply people who write poems. There is no special badge required, no institution necessary to give you it’s blessing. Truly, there is no prerequisite other than desire. Nothing but desire will keep you coming back to the page to work and rework and work some more at cultivating language into that exquisite container of poem.

How you choose to identify is up to you. How much you write is up to you. But if you’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with poetry and are considering a long-term relationship, then I’d advise you to keep those sleeves rolled up and your hands dirty. There’s nothing like falling into a poem to keep us receptive and attentive to what is broken open in us. There’s nothing like writing through a poem to teach us how to inhabit what is whole.

On Falling In

A Jewish friend told me this story: A man asks his rabbi, “Why does God write the law on our hearts? Why not in our hearts? It’s the inside of my heart that needs God.” The rabbi answered, “God never forces anything into a human heart. He writes the word on our hearts so that when our hearts break, God falls in.” Whatever you hold sacred, you’ll find that an unguarded broken heart is the ideal instrument for absorbing it.

If you fall into intimacy without resistance, despite your alarm, either you will fall into love, which is exquisite, or love will fall into you, which is more exquisite still. Do it enough, and you may just lose your fear of falling. You’ll get better at missing the ground, at keeping a crushed heart open so that love can find all the broken pieces. And the next time you feel that vertiginous sensation of the floor disappearing, even as your reflexes tell you to duck and grab, you’ll hear an even deeper instinct saying, “Fall in! Fall in!” – Martha Beck

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