New Essay: “A Poet’s Progress”

This fragment was intended for inclusion in my upcoming poetry collection, but since I ran into a sort of writer’s block trying to find the right words to express what I didn’t know that I wanted to say(!?), I eventually cut it down to just this. I hope it makes at least a bit of sense.

   The older I get, the less I care what other people think of my writings. I used to worry a lot about whether people would be able to distinguish between me and my writings, and what they would think of me if they were to read them. These days however, I have acquired an arm’s length of distance to the final pieces myself, and know to what extent I put myself out there. What other people may misunderstand is out of my hands. All that matters to me is whether or not I feel comfortable publishing the poems.

   What I did crave, for the longest time, was the active support of my family – something I have now come to recognize will never happen. And the more I push, the less I receive. What people don’t seem to understand is that there is no such thing as a solitary genius, who can create magnificent things alone against the world. No. The people who achieve the most are the ones with the strong networks of people who encourage them and support them when the going gets tough. And those people need to do so voluntarily, because otherwise it doesn’t work. Forcing someone to take an interest in you isn’t an option.

   I don’t write because I have a host of supporters slapping my shoulders and encouraging me to continue. I write because it is a safety valve that allows me to go about my everyday existence without breaking down. I am introverted, quiet and contemplative by nature – in a society that was built by and for the loud-mouthed. I can never get a word in edgewise. And my thoughts are too complex for a casual conversation anyway. Poetry became my way to express myself and reflect. And from there it grew into a need – poems creating themselves unbidden, popping into my mind and demanding to be written down – and in haste, lest I forget them!

   Another thing that has changed for me with age is my approach to poetry altogether. Not just the writing style – or even the content. The themes remain the same. But the portrayal is different. Much the same has happened to my artwork. I am no longer afraid of grime. Life involves a fair amount of dirt, ugliness and bad feelings. No reason to block them out – sterile art exists in a vacuum where it will ultimately fail to move anybody – even the artist herself. I spent years struggling with my artwork because I wanted it to be clean and polished, but always ended up feeling like something was missing. The greatest improvement my art ever saw was the day I decided not to “clean” dirty fingerprints off a charcoal drawing, and realized that they didn’t take away from the picture – they added to it. They added character and perspective. And much the same realization has come to me regarding poetry because the different art forms feed off each other. Why write nonsense in perfect rhyme, rhythm and meter? Why write those perfectly formed sentences? I always said that content was more important than packaging, and I thought I practiced it, but apparently I still had some learning to do before I actually started living writing by it.

   I started out writing prose poems. Then I copied classical styles. Then I wrote lyrical ballads because that’s what came most natural to me. And when I wanted to experiment again, I habitually went back to writing prose poems. But the words were still classical in a sense – they weren’t my own.

   Only recently have I discovered what I have only glimpsed in a few, isolated poems from earlier on. Words can rhyme regardless of where in the poem they are placed. Consonants can rhyme just as well as vowels. And the rhythm can obscure everything. Writing about garbage isn’t sacrilege – it adds character to a collection that would otherwise have been too polished for anyone to care reading it. And… not everything has to be perfect. It’s totally fine to publish mind maps and sketches. Not everything is meant to be primed and polished – or even remotely clean. Some things are just what they are and shouldn’t aspire to be any more than that.

   I could also add that I have naturally been given access to more material with age and experience – it’s one of the nicer side effects of ageing. But mostly I’ve just gotten better at letting go and not striving for perfection. And if I get even better at that with age, it would be a most welcome development.

Published By: K-M Skalkenæs

Danish poet, writer and painter. Writings include her own original poetry in English and Danish, and translations of poetry from the Scandinavian languages and German into English.

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