On Writing

When Others Do What You Do

A friend just sent me a link to a podcast about a poet who writes poetry for people. Like, poetry on demand. Like, what I do too. Why just this past January, I met another poet-on-demand in Washington Square in New York City. Both he and this woman in the podcast use old typewriters to write poems for people. Both of them have written thousands of poems over the years. Both of them have put together books of this poetry. Just. Like. Me.. Each of us have spoken/written about the magic of writing poetry for people on-the-spot, given little more than a subject or a few words. Each of us has spoken/written about the importance of poetry as advocacy, resistance, love, community and historical significance. Each of us has spoken/written about writing poetry that is inclusive and accessible to as many people as possible because poetry is alive and necessary and magic. Each of us has spoken/written about the trance-like, energy-exchange phenomenon that happens when we write poetry this way. We can’t really explain how it happens or why, we just are grateful that it does, we recognize it as a creative gift, and we do our best to share it. Each of us has travelled far and wide writing poetry for people. One of us currently travels the world writing poetry this way. One of has written for Oprah and the Obamas.

Full disclosure here. I clicked on the link to the podcast (as part of Sounds True, a heart-centred multi-media company), and a small feeling of excitement for what I would find fluttered in my chest. I saw the image of the woman. Her name is Jacqueline Suskin. I read the info about her life, her work, and her new book Every Day Is A Poem.

And I froze.

I mean, that feeling of warmth in my centre dropped deep and kind of pushed its way through my lower body. The voices in my head clicked up a few decibels. These were not positive voices. She’s so beautiful, one said. You’re not so beautiful, another voice said. Michelle Obama? She wrote a poem for Michelle Obama?! Another voice whimpered. Who’ve you written a poem for that was so famous, so important? Was the follow up line. She has a book out now? A big, beautiful book filled with her luscious poems – and published by such a fantastic publisher? Still another voice exclaimed. When’s the last time you wrote a poem on demand, Vanessa? When?

Excited heat shifted to cruel cold feet brought on by the flurry of monster voices in my head. Comparing. Comparing. Comparing. Negating. Shrinking. Challenging. Breaking. Down. The. Good.

What the fu&%?

I squeezed my toes to bring back some heat. I looked deep into Jacqueline’s eyes in her photo. I furrowed my brow to close out the damn voices, and I inhaled deeply. Re-centring back into my heart. A voice wanted to reprimand the others, but I stopped that one too. My soul stood up, brushed herself off, and put her hands on her hips. Her perfect soul hips.

“We are all poets,” she said, lifting her right hand and waving it in the air. “We are all on demand. Love this world that puts poetry on a pedestal. Get. Up. On. The. Pedestal, Woman. The typewriter is waiting. So are the people.”

I swallowed back tears. I am still swallowing them down.

Look, the world is filled with people who do the same things. The world is full of poets, thank goodness! The world is full of every kind of creative that needs to be in existence. That. Is. What. Love. Does..That is the POINT.

I marvel at the phenomenon that is the tumultuous life of the voices in my head. These voices…these are the same voices that engage with the words when I write poetry on demand. These are the same voices that love me as deeply as they seem to hate me. The reactions to others doing the same thing(s) I do – the painful rigmarole of it all is such an adventure! I am embarrassed by the darkness of it all. And that’s why I knew I had to write about it. To tell you. To open up the window to my mind and show you how it works. Because…I can’t be alone in this experience.

The truth is that I often hold back my mind-chatter. I put it away or write it on the pages of my journal for only my eyes and the slippery goodness of the blue ink to see. There is already so much…vocalized, and whether we’re reading it out loud or hearing it on a tv, computer or radio…I sometimes feel like there is enough. My place in this vocal village is small. It is on a journal page. It is in a room, in a box, on a shelf, in the house of my soul. And mostly I am good with this arrangement.

But I couldn’t not share today. Not when it comes to poetry. Not when the gesture from my dear friend was to connect me with a ‘kindred spirit’ for the love of words, poetry. For the love of love.

Thank you, Penny-Anne. Thank you Sounds True and Jacqueline Suskin. Thank you Marshall James Kavanaugh, Dream Poet for Hire. Thank you for reminding me that ‘purpose’ is a shared, lived and loved experience. Even when it includes the shadows of our own doubt. Even when it takes a moment or four-hundred words to remember that when others do what I do, we are all in it together.

like skin around bones like
light under withering leaves
inside outside sidebyside
core connects with core
seeds in apples we leave to 
dry on the sticky kitchen counter - seeds
we plant in the garden heart of community

When others do what you do – rejoice! React. Respond. Reflect. Respect. Rejoice.

One thought on “When Others Do What You Do

  1. It’s disappointing to be bombarded by people who don’t get it. That’s certainly been the downfall of social media and the Internet. Now, any crackpot can have a say and cater to a wide audience.
    In my experience dealing with people at an administrative level, I found that there are people who are just irrational – and you need to do everything in your power to protect yourself (your psyche) from them.
    I remember telling my teachers at the September staff meetings that people measure themselves by the last 3 negative comments they have received.
    We are vulnerable to bullying, guilt trips and aspersions cast on our integrity and character.
    I try to tell them to look back on the good things that they’ve accomplished in a day even with their students. The meaningful interactions that improved someone’s day, that time they supported a colleague in distress, or confronted a bully with friends at your side.
    The problem with writing is that it’s often a solitary pursuit, and there are people who just don’t ‘get’ us. We should not allow ourselves to be judged solely by the negative comments of the few, but by the years of positive energy, light and heart we have brought to others.
    Love is a powerful and easily damaged thing, but hope pushes us to continue to reach out, and in so doing, find the harbor that will shelter and guard our voices in the world.


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