The Organized Poet

You might say the title is an oxymoron and here I am laughing because there is some truth to that. But if you want to be a poet, organization might be key to being recognized as one, or even to becoming a good one.

So you want to be a poet. Don’t tell just ANYONE!

Why not?

The last time I told someone I wrote poetry, I was invited to join a poetry slam. At the age of nineteen, I was the oldest person there. At judgement time, I was severely beaten by a nine year old girl, who did back handsprings while reciting some mean poetry of her own making. I, who had read off a list of interesting sounding but meaningless word associations, felt slightly humiliated.

There is stigma attached to being a poet. Just start asking people on the street. Some of them may tell you they do not like poetry. Some of these people will even be literate. Some of them will even be academics. Some will be young, others will be jaded. But it cannot be denied, there are some poetry haters out there.

So who CAN you tell? That depends. If you have a close friend or two, you could tell them.

Really, what is there to be gained by going about saying, “I’m a poet, look at me!” What is there to be gained in going about saying, “I’m an architect, look at me!”

Well, it turns out that if you omit the “look at me!” part, there may be much to be gained. First off, it might be an inspiration to those people who actually like poetry. You might start a wonderful conversation, and then maybe a friendship will blossom. Who can tell?

But this post isn’t about talking about being a poet, it’s about what you need to do to become a good one. Not just a poetry doodler, but a real poet.

1. Find a three-ring binder. DO NOT buy it if you can help it. There are so many three-ring binders out and about in the world already, that you can almost certainly find an unused one in a friend’s basement, or at the dump, or at your grandmother’s house if she’s still kicking.

2. Borrow a three-hole punch. Use the three-hole punch to punch three holes in many pages of white computer paper, discarded from a public-use printer. As many pages as will fit in the binder. The pages will be printed on one side, but you only need the one blank side anyhow. It’s a drag to use both sides, and this way you needn’t feel guilty about wasting paper.

3. Write a poem in ink using one hand.

4. With ink of a different color, make minor revisions.

5. Wait a while.

6. Rewrite the revised poem on the next blank sheet of paper, using your original ink.

7. As soon as you’ve rewritten it, doubtless there are some things you’d like to change.

8. With the ink of the different color, make minor revisions.

9. Wait a while.

10. Repeat steps 6-9 until you sense that the poem is done. You don’t want to destroy the poem, but you want every f***ing word to count.

Actually Writing Your Book

It’s 11:39 PM when I’m starting to write. It’s Wednesday, “Hump Day”. I’ve decided to write in a public forum in the hopes that doing so will make me shape up enough to write in complete sentences. Basically, to not be so lazy. Alright, that wasn’t a complete sentence.

Whatever. That wasn’t either.

What matters is that I write everyday. There’s no other way to become a good writer. I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about writing. And one thing they all seem to agree on — and they don’t agree on much — is that in order to become a writer, you need to write. That seems obvious, and it is. “Seeming obvious” is dangerous, though, when I realized how much time a day I was THINKING about writing, and how little time I was actually writing.

So here goes. I’ve lived long enough to know that mistakes are inevitable. I know for sure that I’ll make mistakes that would make Strunk and White cringe. But I’ll do my best not to be sloppy. I’ll do my best to capitalize the beginnings of sentences. I’ll do my best to use the apostrophe when it’s right to use it, and leave the apostrophe out when it’s not its time.

I know that writing is much more than grammar. Writing is about conveying ideas, however that works. Grammar helps. But, writing is also about being an active member of society. Writing is about learning civility. Writing is about distilling vitriol and serving it hot and bubbling. Writing is about learning new words. Writing is about words people understand. Writing is about comforting. Writing is about stirring up a slack, boggy pond. Writing is about that boulder perched on the side of a mountain. Writing is about putting a little rock next to the boulder and prying the boulder loose of the mountainside with the simple machine strength of your prose. Writing is about tying supports to that boulder so it doesn’t smash into the house at the bottom. Writing is about realizing that the house at the bottom will actually be crushed by the falling boulder and that you can take with you only what you can pack on your horse — your bowl, your notebook, your kids, your partner — and move a few yards to the side as the boulder rolls into what you thought your home was. Writing is acknowledgment of those tricky subjects: sex, humor, taxes, cancer, jealousy, death, wonderment, water, fire, our piddling place in the universe, God in the movements of the dancer you saw last month even though you’re not sure if you believe in God, trees, birds, the ocean, rice, beans, and caviar.

Maybe you like to write. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you love it. Maybe you’ve never really tried. If you’ve never really tried, but would like to, here is a way to start.

It’s called Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s the best kick in the ass that I know of to get started writing. Nanowrimo started out with a person who recognized the power of guilt monkeys and plot bunnies and running backwards speaking inspiring words into a camera. Wearing, of course, a Viking helmet. You too can be a Nanowrimo champion. Who knows where it, or you, will go next. Take the plunge: Nanowrimo.org