Answering Questions I Never Thought I’d be Asked
I never thought the idea of unrhymed poems would cause others so much anxiety.
By Bri Griffith, Carlow University
As a poetry student, I’ve come to realize “How are you going to make any money?” is as common a question as “How are you?”
This is something I expected, as poetry is one of the lowest paying forms of writing there is. Spoiler alert, though: I’m not writing poetry to become rich enough to own a house with two garages and an in-ground pool.
Some of my friends have an image of me sitting in front of a typewriter, staying in my house for years at a time, writing books, drinking coffee and hating myself. While it’s true my body is made up of nothing but caffeine-filled cells, typewriters are hard to come by.
But in addition to the “Have fun working at Starbucks” and “You can always write for fun,” comments, I also get a lot of questions I never expected.
Here are some of the more surprising things I’ve been asked as a poetry student.
1. “People still write poetry?”
Yes, people still write poetry. In fact, there are more poets out there today than Edgar Allan Poe would know what to do with. I know when you hear “poetry” you may think of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and maybe even Robert Frost (we get it, dude, you took the road less traveled), but contemporary poetry and spoken word are on the rise.
Split This Rock Poetry Festival is basically Vans Warped Tour for poets.
There are thousands of poetry magazines and reviews you can submit your work to for possible publication, although some editors accept less than 1% of submissions (picky assholes). There’s diversity among writers today, much unlike the old white men of our past. In short, poetry is way different than when Poe wrote “The Raven,” and a lot of people are writing it.
2. “Why don’t your poems rhyme?”
Well, because rhyme is for quitters.
But seriously, rhyme is boring. By now we all know Roses are red and Violets are blue. It’s time to switch it up and write something new. (Get it?)
Writers don’t want to be predictable. Poetry’s evolved since Shakespeare wrote his 154 Sonnets which, mind you, he literally just used numbers as titles. Also, rhyming can seem forced. Poets write in more forms than just free verse, but self-expression through creativity is the opposite of force: you want the freedom to be whoever you want.
What you don’t want is to feel stuck trying to rhyme your words. Unless I rhyme by accident, I don’t, because it’s already been done, and it (usually) doesn’t work. I’m exploring new territory, and I’ll leave the rhymes to Dr. Seuss considering he was obviously an expert.
3. “Are these poems about you?”
I’ve had friends read poems and say, “Holy shit, I’m so sorry,” after they’ve finished. My mom tends to question my sanity from time to time. Sometimes I write some fucked up shit, but not all of my poems are based on true events.
Although the poems each have parts of me in them, considering they came from me, they’re not all real life stories about my tragic, heartbroken human self. They’re poems, not confessions.
4. “Will you write a poem about me?”
I think I get asked this at least once every day, sometimes by people I barely even know. I hate to break this to you, but it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just sit down and write about how good you look in your jeans today.
I mean I can, but let’s face it, no one would read it.
As a poet, I’m always watching, and I’m very aware of my surroundings. If you do end up in one of my poems, I want it to be a surprise. And if you find yourself somewhere in-between the lines, I’ll never confirm. You don’t know what’s real about the poem and what’s not.
5. “Is it weird spilling your guts and having people tell you you’re not good?”
I had a coworker ask me this during a conversation about school. I say both yes and no. Personally, I’d rather someone tell me something’s not good so I don’t keep doing it. Just like building a car, there are certain parts you need to build a good poem, and I appreciate honest feedback. Writing a poem is more complex than writing a journal entry.
At the same time, sometimes it’s hard reading a more personal poem in class and having the professor tear me a new one. I always remember not everybody is going to like my work, but if they’re not giving me constructive critique, then they’re not helping anyone.
6. “Are you a tortured soul?”
Aren’t all college students tortured souls, surfing student debt and the internet, avoiding exam reviews and a multitude of other responsibilities? The word “tortured” is a little too Hemingway for me.
I love language, the human body and the art of storytelling. Writing is both cathartic and fun, and the world of poetry is full of community. Who doesn’t love feeling supported by those who are doing what you’re doing? With all the work college students have to carry on a daily basis, poetry helps me handle the mess.
As a poetry student, I find myself subject to a wide array of interesting questions, more than the usual “What’s your back up plan?” Although everyone, from my high school guidance counselor, to my best friend’s mom, to the choreographer of my high school musical (seriously) has told me to pursue something else, there’s no way I could.
When people ask me why I chose to become a poet, I tell them it’s the same reason why they chose to pursue whatever it is they want to do: because it genuinely makes me happy. Whatever you’re doing, you should be doing it because you couldn’t do anything else as happily. And hell, if I have to write poems on the napkins at Starbucks, drinking iced coffee on breaks, waiting for something else to come along, then by God that’s what I’ll do.