I’ve written little snippets of writing for years, in my little notes app in my phone. Some of them I’ve turned into what resembles poetry, and some of them remains little snippets of writing.
I imagine many of us do that. We’re all casual poets. Because the term ‘poet’ feels uncomfortable, like putting on a piece of clothing that’s not your size. The identity ‘poet’ doesn’t come in the shape of you. It comes in the shape of the famous, published writer, the university professor, the owner of the poetry account on Instagram that has almost 500k followers. You get the gist.
One day, I thought, hey, maybe I’ll feel more legitimate if I take a poetry class! So I found myself an hour-long, online poetry class that happened to be not very popular, but had good reviews.
What I Expected
I didn’t want something theoretical. I wasn’t looking for a deep dive into sonnets, or rhythm, or other literary devices. I just wanted to learn how to write poetry.
As I’m writing this, I’m recognising that I didn’t really know what ‘learning how to write poetry’ entails. Maybe I was expecting a list of writing processes I could try out? A walkthrough of how one creates poetry, from the first word to the finalised piece?
And I’m recognising that these expectations are somewhat flawed. What do I mean, ‘walkthrough’? I was looking for a straightforward path to poetry, but there is no path. Just an open, empty space for me to do whatever I want with it.
That’s the thing that paralyses many artists — the blank canvas.
And in many ways, life is a blank canvas — even if you’re in the middle of it — because every junction where you make a choice is another blank canvas.
When John Keating from Dead Poets Society said, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion… What will your verse be?” that is a blank canvas.
He doesn’t tell his students how to write poetry, he inspires them to let the poetry write itself through them.
So yes, maybe I had unclear expectations, and maybe they were unrealistic expectations — that I would encounter a teacher like John Keating — but that didn’t excuse the experience that I was about to walk into.
What I Experienced
Taking the poetry class was the best hour of my life — if the goal was to waste it. Seriously, when they gave the final assignment to write a poem, I had to scribble one about how trash the class was.
he doesn't read poetry
that's probably the first red flag
keep an open mind
until you realise you've wasted your time
sixty whole minutes
i can summarise'screw traditional theory and write whatever you want, just make sure it looks like poetry. here's some motivation, now go! duh.'
This is probably more of a ‘snippet of frustrated writing’ than ‘poetry’. At that point, all I wanted to do was take a short break from poetry.
I was surprised the reviews were so good. Maybe this class should be targeted towards absolute beginners instead of everyone.
That said, there was one part of the class I appreciated — the book recommendations it gave. At least it pointed me in some other direction instead of leaving me with nothing! Just kidding. It was actually useful in one aspect.
It should be a complete no-brainer to someone who wants to write a story that they should just get their idea down, then refine it from there.
Yet it’s also the hardest thing to do.
This class basically tells you to ‘just start’, but what could have been a 3-minute motivational video dragged out to be an hour long less-motivating class.
Nevertheless, it’s an important concept. As I’ve mentioned, the blank canvas paralyses us. So take the first stroke. Mess up on purpose. You can always cover it up later, or worse case scenario, call it art in itself. A beautiful mistake, right?
Finding ways to get ourselves to start is the key to finishing a poem, a book, or an article. For some people, watching a short motivational video may be the kick that gets them to do it. For others like myself, setting a timer for a short period of time — whether that is 5 or 25 minutes — to spend on the task gets the ball rolling.
This isn’t even about poetry — it’s universal to any task you want to do.
That’s not really the point of a poetry writing class, is it? Wink.