Saturday, January 3, 2009

English 206


When I was nineteen, I took a lower-division creative writing poetry class. I was excited, as I had been writing poetry since I was a kid. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but I do recall that my experience did not quite match whatever expectations I may have had. I had heard good things about the professor, but I think he was past his prime by the time I took his class. At times, he was animated and inspiring when he spoke about poetic language, but more often then not, he was erratic and irritable, and he would forget what he had told us from one moment to the next.

I found that I didn’t quite fit in with all of the students, either. There were a couple of girls who were of the belief that no one’s poetry should be critiqued, because to do so was to critique that person’s feelings and that just wasn’t fair. As a matter of fact, they often met any discussion of their recent drafts with trembling lips and watery eyes. They had a very Stuart Smalley-like approach to poetry class: it should function as a daily affirmation for everyone’s emotions and experiences.

There were other students who wore black all of the time and often came to class barefoot. They seemed to equate the poetic life with a lack of attention to personal hygiene and a need to use the f**k word as often as possible in their work. One girl in the class seemed to write every poem about the size and girth of her various lovers’ private parts, using the word “cockroach” as a double entendre/metaphor as often as possible.

I left the class feeling like I did not belong in the creative writing world. And for the rest of my undergraduate career, I used this feeling as an excuse to not attempt any other poetry or fiction classes. The class was not a total loss, however. I find myself now striving to implement the lessons I learned: make your language as precise as possible, avoid clich├ęs, and write at least one poem a week. 20 years later, I’m still not sure how well I am doing, but I am taking pleasure in doing it.

At the end of that semester, my professor wrote a comment on my final portfolio that pleased me and frustrated me to no end: “You have a strong sense of the language of poetry, but you have yet to find your own authentic poetic voice. Final grade: B.” I was glad that he thought I had a knack for poetic language, but what was a poetic voice? Where could I get one? How did I find it? Did I miss the distribution line at freshman orientation? If my poetic voice wasn’t my own, whose was it? My nearly 40-year-old self thinks it’s ridiculous to expect that any 19-year-old could have found her own poetic voice, but my 19-year-old self would surely disagree!

I have no idea what my professor would think of this blog, but I’m no longer using my experience in his class as an excuse to hold back on my writing. Maybe that’s a first step to finding my voice.

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