Creating Poetry When You Don’t Have a Life

Anybody who met me personally, other than wondering where the hell my energy and babbling comes from, would probably consider me to be the biggest square that ever walked about in my generation. I’m not much of a drinker, not a smoker, and more than a handful of college classmates told me that I’d probably be normal if I was on drugs.

My life is quiet, so to speak. I don’t talk to family much (there’s nothing to say unless it’s political, in which case there’s NOTHING to say). My sister-friend (only real friend and not casual aquaintance) is a  thousand miles away or more. I work all the time and the only people I talk to are clients at one job (wisecracks make the appointment go faster, and keeps me awake), a few co-workers at work, anybody at Starbucks with 30 seconds or more to spare, and that’s about it.

Generally speaking, I don’t have a “life.” I go through the motions of making a living, soaking up books and learning what I can with what little time I have between driving to my different jobs. If I’m lucky, I can read a book in one sitting and give myself time to soak it up, or have an uninterrupted hour chatting with my sister-friend.

That said, I have developed an affinity for slam poetry. I like poetry for the most part, even beyond Seuss and Silverstein. Since I was a kid I’ve tried my hand at it in fits and starts. But when I hear the emotion and the experience in these young voices (yes, I know they practice it to get it just right for the audience), I kind of shrink.

I bumped into slam poetry by accident when an article referenced some gaff by a political leader and somebody posted a slam video as a response. I thought it was powerful, and it’s wonderful. There are so many great young poets across the racial, gender, ethnic spectrum that when I was feeling particularly dull and emotionless, I would listen and watch for an hour or so and feel my emotions churning.

YouTube videos, Brave New Voices on HBO (pictured above) and tons of live events out there. I’d love to go to one if I can find one near me. That would be awesome. It’s like empathy-squared when I watch these poets bare it all with their voices and words.

In short, they had the power to wake me up, make me wonder and think, and love language again. Sometimes the poetry’s dismissed as something else. I grew up with familiar rhyme schemes and other stuff we had shoved down our throats in English class, but most modern poems are prose poems, and I can’t figure out how they are supposed to be poetry when I’m reading them, so I give up.

I’d probably have to hear them live to get the poetry aspect. I’m trying to get back to understanding poetry, so I can better write my own and understand others’ poetry, too.

Yesterday, from the moment I left Starbucks to the moment I got to my desk at work, I was talking to myself. Yes, thinking out loud looks silly, but it helps when I forget my tape recorder for the umpteenth time until I can get to some post-it notes. I had ideas for three poems right off the bat and scribbled them down before they all merged into this swirl of what-the-hell-was-that and I let the ideas fizzle out.

My own personal life doesn’t seem to lend itself to poetry. I haven’t dated in years, I have had some unfortunate meetings with people (which have led to some early poetry I’m still tearing apart and rebuilding for clarity), I don’t have many childhood memories, holiday stories, vacation trips or anything to draw from. I just don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything, and my descriptions tend to suck.

I have the emotions–sometimes–just not the language to make them come to life. That’s why I read so much and so often. I am re-learning some ways to describe events, places, behaviors…

I just have so little practical experience in this damned world we’re in.

But I do have emotions. I do have opinions. And sometimes they’re too damned fragmented for a blog post, or too emotional for a short story, or too awkward for basic communication. Poetry fills that divide. Ah, someone who sums it up nicely:

I wonder how much life experience one needs in the day-to-day social world to make good poetry. Some have very painful poetry that comes about because they’ve had some bad things happen, or they’ve risked so much. I wouldn’t mind risking something for good art, but at the same time, what would I be risking and for what?

I am so awkward that I can’t even imagine taking that step, the step to be better and more sociable. Guess I need to re-read “The Social Skills Guidebook” and learn to put myself out there and keep doing it.

I mean, how many poems about uncertainty, fear, current events, and awkwardness can one actually write?

Never mind–some have made careers on love poems, nature poems, humor poems, etc.

Guess my biggest worry is repeating myself and never growing because I have nothing else to work with.

But I’ll be reading more poetry next year–I’ve already made my book list and there are plenty of poetry books in there (beyond Silverstein and Seuss, but definitely Poe). I just think going beyond myself is crucial…I just have no idea where and how to start.

So, once I get more than an hour to actually think to myself today (crap, that’ll be a while), I’ll free-write more thoughts to work with and build on those initial ideas. And remember to keep my tape recorder handy for those crazy moments of inspiration when I’m driving to my afternoon shift.

An hour on the road with the radio off can make you think up a lot of stuff!

3 thoughts on “Creating Poetry When You Don’t Have a Life

  1. Andrew says:

    Good luck with the poetry writing, I already know that I can’t write that way so stopped trying a long time ago. Have to chuckle at “tape recorder”, referenced twice….. I can’t recall the last time I saw a cassette tape, miniature or otherwise 🙂

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  2. bobcabkings says:

    In the matter of leading an introverted life, we have much in common. I don’t have a great ambition to create poetry, but it does pop out here and there, in a way that that Robert Frost quote fits so well. You will find it and write it, I think, and reading Poe isn’t a bad place to start. Ogden Nash is quite a model in a lighter vein on the oddities of less dramatic life.

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