Guest column by Miranda Beckum, senior creative writing major
Poetry is heavy. If you asked me if I was a poet seven months ago, I would have laughed at you. I would have said I was a nonfiction writer, and poetry was gladly uncharted waters. In my personal essays, I tend to have a theme of not taking myself too seriously amid chaos. I’ll sometimes try to teach a lesson or tell a story with something you can take and apply to yourself. But in this process of writing based on real life, negative memories are often brought up, and I can only put so much personal emotion into a piece that I want to be broadly relatable. In essays, I try to lean toward dark humor, but this left me with no outlet for a lot of the intense things I was feeling. So, in writing poetry, I allow myself to explore the darker parts of my story that I actively conceal in my nonfiction writing.
I’ve started to use poetry as a life raft, and my best work comes when I’m drowning. I use it to talk about some of the most painful moments in my life in small, easily digestible packages that only require a short amount of attention. My work often focuses on rhythm. I pay a lot of attention to how the poem sounds when you read it versus how it looks on the page. I like to sometimes use more conversational language or phrases also in an attempt to draw attention to the rhythm. One of my favorite poems I’ve ever written starts with, “When I was a kid, I used to have night terrors.” There is nothing poetic sounding about that line. Nothing about that sentence comes across as “pretty,” but when I read that poem, it almost sounds like a song.
I also receive all my affirmations from a positive workshop. In a poetry workshop, you will read your work to the class and, depending on the intensity of the professor, you may sit in complete silence while peers tear your poem and a piece of your soul to shreds. We’ll sometimes call this the “cone of silence.” Sometimes, you’re allowed to answer questions or explain what you were trying to accomplish, but sometimes you suffer in silence.
There’s also a weird phenomenon among some of my peers where we just don’t write about pleasant things. There’s a running joke among some poet friends of mine about how none of us have ever written anything happy. This can make poetry classes pretty intense, because a large number of people are typically writing about something that’s more or less depressing. Every workshop or two, someone will share something really beautiful or a poem that just sounds good, but even those aren’t usually outright happy. They’re just good poems. Sometimes you have to slit your throat and bleed on the page for the message to really get across. And sometimes you’ll do it just for the positive reinforcement.