Fear of Recognition
Two times in less than twenty-four hours, women have expressed their uneasiness about engaging with poetry directly to me. The first came by way of apology at the start of a critique to a poem I'd submitted in a workshop this week. The second came in the form of a reply to a comment on Instagram: "I'm still afraid of poetry, of not being able to let go and be satisfied with whatever meaning I'll come up with..."
This morning I read that comment and thought about how unfortunate it is that some women (and men!) feel that way about poetry. In fact, I even felt as though my experience of writing poetry was the complete opposite. That was until I picked up this week's New Yorker.
I made it about halfway through Ellen Bass' poem "Indigo" before I had to put it down. Never before had I recognized myself so much in a poem. How had someone else written these words? How had someone been able to give voice to something I have experienced but struggled to comprehend? Most importantly, how does one develop the wherewithal to submit such intimate stuff to the New Yorker?
Not twelve hours had passed when I found myself in Bluestockings for the first time since high school. Again, a poem in Pavana Reddy's self-published Rangoli stopped me in my tracks. For years, I had felt unrooted by my bicultural experience. Here, finally, was a poem that captured the sentiment in the very same language I felt instinctually.
Suddenly, I understood the reticence to give expression to your own lived experience in the form of poetry. Surely, I thought, there are others who can do it (and have done it!) better than I can. But that is where these thoughts should stop. Poetry is the great connector and this digital age has done much to reveal that fact.
There is someone out there who needs your words. Write.
Image: Untitled (shadow) by Adrienne Elise Tarver (2014)