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reclaiming my inner poet

December 1, 2013

It’s 3 a.m., and I should’ve gone to bed already.

Four nights this week, I’ve dreamed about writer’s/artist’s residencies. I’m still trying to figure out if they are a metaphor for something else, or not.

I have come up with a project to write essays about; and a different project to write poems about. Either project would definitely benefit from me doing a writer’s residency, but so far I have not found any residencies that seem like a good fit for me.


Have ordered sample copies of several poetry journals, to determine if my poems might fit within their pages.

Am reading lots of books of poetry, including many of translated poetry, looking for favorite poets, and . . . ways of interacting with the world that I haven’t thought of.

Wrote what seemed like a fragment of poetry last night, but as the poem informs me it is finished, I have handwritten it into my book of poems, and assigned its number.

Checking my Poetry Submissions file, the average length of my poems is just under 66 words, so they are short, but last night’s poem is 13 words.

I have a rather long (for me) poem that I began writing 2 years ago, but have not finished it, so it’s not skewing the average length, yet.


I keep making lists of rhymes for poems I want to write, but then the inspiration fizzles before I finish.

I guess I have to trust that something will bubble up when it is ready to be written.

I rejoined Meetup recently, partly to rejoin the poetry group I’d been part of earlier this year. Gradually realized, though, that every time I thought about showing up at the next meeting, it felt like a chore, not something I really wanted to do. So I dropped out again.

Possibly related to that, 2 days ago, I woke up remembering only the fragment of a dream in which I was telling someone (in a work context) that “I have ADD, so I can’t do things unless I’m actually interested in them.”


Spouse talked me out of applying to the Stanford Stegner fellowship when I waffled again. Even though I was telling him all the ways it wasn’t ideal for me, I still felt drawn to trying for it, but he said I should hold out for something that actually suits me. Which seems obvious, but a part of me clearly wants . . . something un-obvious.

I think it could be the whole grad school kind of thing, where I thought I was doing it for reasons that made sense to me, but it actually turned out to be mostly about trying to please my (unpleasable) parents.

I think the Stegner would be a way of feeling validated by authority figures — Stanford!

Which is kind of a prickly realization because my conscious mind isn’t particularly interested in what any authority figure says or does.

Wait a minute.

The very first poem I wrote on my own initiative (not for a school assignment) happened at school, in 8th grade. (I’ve been remembering this incident for a week now, but hadn’t realized it was connected to the Stanford thing.)

7th and 8th grade were pretty horrible, including getting tormented and bullied by my science teacher (and having my parents take his side, because “he’s an authority figure, so obviously he’s right – duh!”). Even though science was my favorite class, and I got A’s on all the tests and projects, because I wouldn’t take Mr. Geary’s ridiculous daily busywork seriously, I was in constant danger of failing every quarter. He graciously granted me a C- the last quarter of 8th grade, which allowed me to graduate with my class. Miserable bastard.

Anyway, the poetry incident was much, much worse.

It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I was so traumatized, in fact, that I didn’t write another poem of my own initiative until 2011, more than 30 years later.

I never told my parents about this incident because I couldn’t bear to hear another round of, “well, if the teacher thinks you did something wrong, then obviously, you were at fault! So we’ll punish you beyond what she did, because you surely deserve it!”


I had an epiphany a week or so ago, thinking about this long-ago event.

The worst part of it was that, because it was my first poem, and because Miss Doolin forced me to destroy the only copy of it, I felt that she’d destroyed my identity as a poet along with the piece of paper.

She didn’t just dislike my poem, she told me it was trash, and filthy, and that I was depraved for writing it. She (apparently) considered trying to get me expelled for writing it. I had to apologize to her, profusely no less, to keep her from telling my parents. (Which I knew would make getting expelled the least of my problems.)

My poem wasn’t any of those things. I thought it was wonderful, and had actually expected her to praise it. Even though she wasn’t very old in age, she was a spinster who seemed to have been born old-fashioned. She was utterly without imagination or humor, and maybe she just didn’t like poetry, or had never read much of it. I don’t know. I don’t care.

Teachers shouldn’t be allowed to terrorize their students.  And parents shouldn’t back them up neither.

But anyway. If my very first poem (which was probably innocuous and not very good) garnered such a drastic reaction from an authority figure, maybe I should refrain from trying to write any new poems, in case they incited a riot!


Maybe this incident is why I practically break out in a cold sweat even trying to imagine having a poetry mentor.

With the Stegner, I’d be getting feedback on my poems from an instructor every week.


If a poetry writing class is offered at The Writer’s Center next year, I’m going to take it. Getting feedback from a teacher and a class — all of whom love poetry — seems like it would have to be a completely different sort of experience than what happened to me previously.

And, since 2011, I’ve written more than 30 poems, so no one can take that aspect of my identity away from me.

(Now it’s 4:30 a.m., and I really must go to bed.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kendra Dahl permalink
    December 3, 2013 23:52

    Hello, I just sent you a card to let you know my parents, Jerome and I will be in DC for vacation. My cousin on my dad side lives there too. It would be great to meet for a bite to eat, drink, etc with you and Jeff. I know we are plannng to go to the spy museum, some of the political sites… It would be great if you could join us during our visit, even more than once if you have time. I really, really, really, really hope to see you soon. I think we will already be there when the card arrives. Please email me at if you’d like to get in touch. I can call you whem we arrive. Hopefully you will see this soon. We could dance in the rain like Gene Kelly and walk on a few curbs during our strolls around town…among other fun, interesting things! The best part would be because it would be with you. Miss you Cousin, KD

    • December 4, 2013 02:04

      I sent you an email back. I look forward to receiving your card soon.

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