I could name a number of reasons for why I chose to study poetry in graduate school. I could say I was lost, and it would be true. I didn’t know what to do after some job opportunities closed during my final semester as an undergraduate. Where was I to go? What work was I to do? Such questions haunted me. They found some alleviation in the suggestion from my college mentor: apply for graduate school.
I could say I wasn’t ready to leave school, and the reason would be true, too. I didn’t have a case of “senioritis” during my senior year of college. Perhaps I was too busy to notice. Working several jobs while finishing a degree tends to leave little room for self-reflection.
I could say I wanted to be a better poet. The reason is as true as the other ones. I was a new poet. I didn’t know what I was doing, but what I was doing seemed to be working. I tried to rest in that fact despite my misgivings about my identity as a poet. I tried to believe that pursuing poetry could take me someplace even if I knew that someplace wasn’t a job opportunity. Poetry, after all, rarely pays the bills until one is famous and dead.
Poetry did take me someplace – the existence of Write Right attests to it – but getting there required getting good and lost. To study and write poetry at a graduate level meant getting messy. It meant making mistakes. It meant sharing baby poems with an audience that had been writing poems for far longer than I had. It meant learning to observe. It meant learning to accept criticism. It meant determining and weighing that criticism. It meant learning not to change a line just because someone said it should be changed. It meant being humble enough to change that line when the argument was valid. It meant being able to stand by my decision to not alter a line and to know the reasons why I wasn’t changing it. It meant learning when and when not to share my point of view. It meant becoming increasingly aware of the role of silence, white space, rhythm, word choice, and sound.
That is what studying poetry taught me. It taught me about life and living and about how to try again and again and again. That’s why I’m glad I studied it. That’s why I will continue to study it and continue to get good and lost.
Photo: Kimli (CC BY NC 2.0)