Recently I read poems by Reginald Shepard and Rethabile Masilo and what strikes me among other things is the imagery. The language is so lush and the writing is so beautiful, I am swept up. I'm envious.
For years, I have secretly hoped that if I read enough, wrote enough, I, too, would create imagery that was not only meaningful but aesthetically so beautiful the reader would read and reread the lines with pure admiration. I haven't learned that skill. I'd like to think I've a learned a thing or two about writing poetry, but I don't whip off the exceptionally complex and powerful lines the way performance poets do on stage nor do I create lines like Lorde, Shepard or Masilo on the page.
I've written about developing my style before, and I suspect it will be an ongoing conversation as I struggle to define my voice. When I doubt my work, I often conjure up a quote by Robert Bly. He said, "It's important that the words in your poems be those you could speak to your friends." Intellectually, I get this. Emotionally owning it, well, I'm working on it.
The quote is taken from The Language of Life, an anthology that introduced me to many poets at once including some of my favorite poets: Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks. "The Bean Eaters" by Brooks is one of my favorite poems because she takes ordinary objects and simple language and creates something that is extraordinary. Since deciding I wanted to learn to write poetry, I have looked to these poets most often for guidance and inspiration.
You know how stroke patients sometimes lose their ability to speak? The words are there, they know what they want to say, but they can't pull the words from the mental file cabinets. My writing is my effort to retain my ability to retrieve the words and to communicate with others. It is no imagined struggle. I write to record memories, ideas and beliefs I fear I won't always be able to pull from my cabinets. Why I feel this way is another post.
Today, I celebrate the Shepards, Lordes and Masilos. And I am grateful for the Halls, Kenyons, Cliftons and Brooks.