I used to carry around a small spiral-bound notebook during my junior year of high school so that I could write down any poems that occurred to me no matter where I was. Took it to geometry class, to Denny’s after the movies, to youth group, to play practice. My favorite image of myself at that time was sitting somewhere with my head bowed over the notebook, scribbling with a black pen. At the age of twelve I’d tried working on a typewriter we had, and I know by 1992 we had a computer of sorts, but I was much more drawn to the actual pen, the actual paper, even if it was college-ruled and a blobby Bic. “Look at her, ” I imagined people whispering jealously to one another, “she’s writing. How does she do it? She is so deep.”
I wrote stories as a little kid, and even tried to send off a couple when I was around twelve. but it wasn’t until my sixteenth year that I started thinking of writing as something I did. I admit that I was more in love with the idea of being a writer (especially of being a poet!) than with the writing itself…but not much more. I wrote the type of stuff that a sixteen year old who hasn’t read much poetry writes: unrhymed, two or three words to a line. Imagistic, I guess it’s called. Full of words like “longing,” “twisted,” “shining”, “being.” They all had one-word titles like “Flood” and “Proximity.” Lots of metaphor; it seems my love was a sea, a flame, a prison, a journey, a cliffside over which I hurled myself, etc., etc.
I did, I wrote about love, or rather, LOVE. I didn’t read poetry but I did watch movies and TV and I knew that that’s what poets did. I wrote funny stories for my friends, but I was sure that there was only one subject for poetry, and so I duly wrote about it. I hadn’t ever dated anyone and I don’t think I’d got around to kissing quite yet, although by the summer I was sixteen I would. The boy I was in love with didn’t know I liked him, so there was plenty poem-fodder there. Actually I liked several boys, so there was that, too. I thought I was deep and special, more so that most of the people in my school. Well. Not exactly deep…I just knew, at the time, that I thought about things differently. That’s fair enough, I guess, but I added on to it and decided that my way of thinking about things: obsessive, analytic, and baroque…was going to Mean Something, and by the time I was sixteen, I decided it meant Poetry.
I wrote in my journal and for a creative writing class. I would write reviews of my future published “pieces.” I practiced my fancy handwriting and still didn’t read any actual poetry written by actual poets. One day in senior English we had a stream-of-consciousness assignment, and I volunteered to read mine…because in addition to being a Poet I was, unshockingly, also a Drama Club whore, and, then as now, loved nothing more than the sound of my own voice. Everyone was silent afterwards. My beloved English teacher, Mrs. Proenza, either cried or said something like “Well, we can’t have anyone go after that” or something equally gratifying. Later one of the other teachers came up to me and asked for a copy. Later…I still can’t believe this happened…some of the Really Popular Girls, of whom I was terrified, came up to me at the Senior benches and asked me to read it to them. It was a small school. And later, another Really Popular Girl came up to me and asked me to write a poem for her. Not for her, but for her beautiful but stupid boyfriend, who had jumped out of a Jeep Cherokee while he was drunk and the Jeep was going 60 miles an hour down 17th Avenue. Somehow he wasn’t killed, but he was in the hospital, and this girl wanted a love poem to give him. So I wrote her one.
It was easy. I didn’t know anything about poetry…and I still don’t…but I wasn’t embarrased by myself yet. I had the gift of an extremely friendly audience…everyone I showed my notebook to just loved what I wrote, and so I figured it must be good. I really believed that once I got around to sending stuff off to a publisher the result would be the same. It turns out, I later discovered, that sixteen-year old girls think that anything that is emotional is good. So I wrote a poem for a popular girl’s boyfriend. I wrote one about my best friend. I wrote one about my father, my mother, my body, my bedroom, my inability to sleep at night, my future, my past. I was the center of everything I wrote about; everything was about me. So it wasn’t hard to do.
I continued to procrastinate sending anything anywhere and continued to write for my friends up until about my junior year of college. My first year My Roommate Airy and I would go to these open-mic nights at this beautiful Craftsman-style house on campus. She’d play the piano and I’d follow with a poem. I would just write one in time for each “evening of spoken word” and read it and sit down and listen to everyone else. I didn’t take up an English professor’s offer to let me join his writing class because (and I actually said this to him) “I was beyond that.” I guess I was, because I eventually stopped writing and to this day haven’t tried to publish anything.
The main reason for this, of course, is that the writing wasn’t good. At all. It’s to be expected that it would be bad; I didn’t know anything about writing at all and I wasn’t very well read. There are certain types of overwrought adolescent girls who can’t be understood unless it’s on quarter pages, with lots of dashes and single-word lines. Maybe with some doodled flowers in the margins. These girls are so certain that no one will ever get them that they don’t think that just plain prose will do. They believe it doesn’t matter how well you write, but how much you feel. Secretly they think everyone else is shallow and they wonder why no one seems to really love them the way they love other people…they figure that if these other people like the poems then maybe it won’t matter if they don’t like the overwrought adolescent girl who wrote them. The girl and the poem are supposed to be the same thing, or, as I’m sure I said in at least eight or nine hundred pieces, “the essence.” At least that’s what I thought when I was an overwrought girl, and I’m guessing that’s what the overwrought girls who read my stuff liked about it, too.
I finf it difficult to write poems now. I don’t have the same compulsion to as I did when I was sixteen. I have written dozens about boys I loved and couldn’t have, or boys who left me, or boys who didn’t know I existed, but it turns out that actually being in a relationship with someone you love hasn’t been too helpful for my productivity, poem-wise. Also, I get embarassed when I try, and end up crossing everything out, even as I tell myself not to edit before I’ve even finished the damn thing. It makes me feel a little sad to think about though…not the lost glory of my career as an Official Deep Person, but the certainty that I was talented and good at something, and that it made some people feel stuff they might not ordinarily.