When I was in high school I did not have a computer. I wrote my poetry in journals. By hand. I still have these journals. I have glanced at them. Cringed a bit. Put them back in storage. I will have to give them a bit more time in the box before I’m ready to sit down, sort through them, figure out what my teenage girl self was trying to say, hug her a bit. My handwriting was so much better then! I was young! I did not have years and years of college and grad school note taking yet to ruin my penmanship.
I worked in a bookstore in high school. I was surrounded by books. And by readers. I spent much of my time in the poetry section. I met people there. I met books there. I met poetry there. One of my co-workers was a woman who became a second mother to me. She let me hang out at her house. With her dogs. With her books. With her computer. And it was here that I discovered whatever it was in the early 1990’s where people hung out in AOL chat-rooms and shared poetry.
I do not remember much about the place, the people there, but I remember I sat at this computer and did not sleep. I was awake all night long. Sharing my poetry. Hearing people react to it. Reading their poetry. Reacting to it. It was magical. I remember feeling really alive, seen, and full of hope in this little AOL space.
And then I think I just dropped it because as mentioned, and perhaps with some degree of thanks, I did not have a computer at home so I could not get full on addicted to this poetry chat environment. But it was empowering while it lasted.
In school my friends would come to me with ideas, topics, words, experiences and ask me to write poems for them. I would. And yet no adult or teacher ever came up to me and said you should be a poet, here’s how, here’s what you need to do, let me mentor you. I think the career path to poetry might have been a road less traveled. I was always told I should be a writer. But again, no clear outline on that either.
Throughout my life I have made friends with my writing, with poetry. And these friends have been the kind of people that don’t do small talk, that don’t shy away from hard conversations, that will dig into topics and works and issues and have meaningful conversations. I used to hold dinners and gatherings during college when it was my favorite poets birthday, or the anniversary of their death. These things are not normal college kid activities. They are awesome and nerdy and steeped in intent and purpose. The purpose: we are going to come together to talk about poetry and poets and what they mean to us and we are going to eat food and exist in this community space with deliberateness.
I think we could do that today, still. I might try it. As an almost 40 year old woman in a new town with very few connections and friends here. But the online environment is still one of the best places to be intentional, deliberate, devoted, and set on making friends and building community as a poet, as a writer. Online we are share - sometimes we share our deepest secrets, or the most vulnerable parts, or the things that are our hurts or the things that are our joys, and then we share some more when these things shift or change, and our stories are laid bare. And people come in and see us. And we are connected via these stories that resonate.
Face-to-face, real life, whatever you want to call it, might not be as easy or as clear. But I do believe you can take your poetry, take your writing, and give it a space and a life that will bring you to people who will appreciate it and you and also the bigger picture of whatever it stands for: deeper stuff.
No matter where you are in life I think it is worth a try to bring some of the deeper stuff to the forefront of how you go out into the world, how you represent yourself, how you seek out others. Poetry can do this. You can form a bookclub. You can hang out at the bookstore in the poetry section and not in a creepy way but in a genuine way. You can have potlucks and community events that focus on poetry somehow - local poets could come read their poems, people could play writing poetry games, the possibilities are endless.
You can also hang out in the online spaces that exist now, that are teeming with poets and poetry, that are overflowing with the deeper stuff, that let you feel connected, just like I did that one night when I did not sleep, when I was awake the whole time, writing poetry reading poetry, talking poetry, and existing as poetry in virtual motion.
To celebrate poetry this month you can try writing some. Or you can pick up some poetry at our local bookstores. Or attend the local events in our area that are focused on national poetry month.
Sundance Books has a month long celebration of poetry and poets.