I Used to Write Poems by Ariana Turiansky

posted Feb 7, 2018, 12:40 PM by Writing Center
I used to write poems.

Having recently graduated from a three-year MFA program designed to give me time to write and revise poems, this is disappointing to admit. Throughout my program, I did my writing on a whim, when the desire struck me—I rarely planned out time or set up goals—and, lately, the desire isn’t striking me.

So, why don’t I just sit down and write if I want to, if I’m disappointed that I’m not doing it? The saying you hear from all of your writing teachers, make time to write, works for many people, but I’m not one of them. When I set myself up to write (bound notebook or laptop, favorite pen, some cliché window view, a cup of coffee, plus or minus music), my anxiety swells. Maybe you’ve had this experience. Your internal narrator vibrates, says you’re a person who has thoughts, opinions, experiences; surely you can find something to say.

-But what can I say?

-It’s Thursday.

-I watched 8 episodes of “The Office” last night. Ha.

-[Looks at the posters on the walls] There’s a world map. A map of the whole world.

-The world is too big for my poem.

-My coffee cup has chevron patterns on it. I can see a tree outside.

-What even is a poem.

-How does oxygen get in here if all the doors are closed?

-Oh no.

And as this goes on, I move further and further away from a poem.

The anxiety (for me; others have expressed it as fear or perfectionism) that keeps us from writing that first line is a big beast to tackle. Here is one website that helped me at one point with the hardship of seeing (and judging) my own words on the page. Ilys hides the words you type as you type them. This means that, because you can’t see what you’ve written, you open yourself up to tangents or getting side-tracked in lovely, creative ways. It is now a subscription service, but you can use it for free for 30 days.

Here’s another idea: Keep a collection of fragments. Broken pieces of mirror. Shells collected from the beach. Silverware. Photographs. Maybe not those exact things, but what I mean is keep a collection of words, images, sounds, people, textures that appeal to you (or affect you in some way), as they confront you. Of course, you have to observe and pay attention to do this, which is a task in itself. Keep your fragments in your phone if that’s more convenient than a notebook. Don’t look at them afterwards. I’ve done this since I was young. I’ve had my students do this. When I want to write, I begin by browsing through those pieces, reading them next to each other (don’t do this until you’re ready to write). It’s like keeping kindling next to your fireplace. You collect it when it’s warm outside, and it’s there when you’re ready to light the flame.

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