PASSED NOTES & POEMS
a monthly feature by
I Do Not Write These Words For You
You listen when they speak to you — these words
my fingers learned by heart before I was
concerned with art. Nobody heard
my schoolgirl voice. Speak diary because
it is a captive’s choice, a countersign
designed one entry at a time. Pink ink
in closets, flashlight sonnet fright, refines
a code I do not know I write. I think
I’m speaking just to me, excising pain
becoming free in kneesocks, dialect
someday some will dissect — but it’s my brain
these verses service, my soul they protect.
This poetry has inherent value
because I did not write these words for you.
It’s National Poetry Month! The poem I wrote today for Passed Notes & Poems is a mantra I need to remember sometimes as a writer. Maybe you do, too. Writing begins with introspection. Most of us write for a while before we are ever published. We write in our childhood bedrooms. I wrote inside a closet at times where I felt safe and protected. I never dreamed that anyone would read these things I scribbled into journals, and now some people actually have. Some of these earliest poems have been published by magazines which is wild to me and something as a child I’d have never thought.
When I wrote them though, at that stage, I wasn’t writing to be published. I was writing for survival , desperation to create something to sit in that closet with me, something that resembled truth in a house of lies. I wrote to develop a fledgling rebellious voice that made me smile at something about myself even if it was just bravery on a page. I wrote to breathe, to use my body in the way I felt it was meant to be used. I wrote because this is who I was. No one ever read a lot of that writing -- and none of it at all until I was in the creative writing program in graduate school many, many years later.
Does that mean it was worthless? Does that mean I wasn’t a writer? Absolutely not. If you are publishing, writing can become focused on very calculable, numerical criteria. How many readers do you have? How many books have you published? How many twitter followers do you have? How many people are visiting your writer’s website? How many publications do you have? On social media, you are confronted with these statistics about yourself and other writers all the time, and it can make writing seem like a capitalist equation where some large number is success.
I’m very driven and prolific, and I like having a lot of books in the world. I enjoy having a lot of Twitter followers, and I celebrate that in others as well. But it’s not why I write a poem or conjure a book. That hasn’t changed. I write poetry because I have always had a need to invent something other than where I am. When I was a child, I was in a place that was totally oppressive and not me, so it was more of an a survival escape. These days, I’m in a better place, but I still have that drive the way that some people enjoy traveling. I travel into the mind, and that is something I very much need and a companion to me. Writing is my best friend.
I love having people in the conversation of my books and their feedback and unique insights. I learn things about my poems all the time from others. I’m very grateful for that miracle of people wanting to read what I write, when it happens, but being read ebbs and flows, for everyone, like anything in life. It doesn’t make me less of a writer when I am less read.
That’s my message with this poem. Sometimes I hear people I totally admire and respect on Poetry Twitter want to give up because they don’t get attention or readers, and I feel that pain for them. I feel it because there are times in my poetry career I’ve felt like I was hitting my head against the wall, too, in that regard.
Ultimately, with more or less readers, I will be here writing sonnets (and some other things) because I need to do it for my brain. I am my ultimate reader. So are you with your own work. Don’t ever discount yourself and the importance of writing – whether you have countless strangers reading your work, a small loyal following or you’re a child in a closet figuring it out with a pen. You do not write these words for them. You write them for yourself.