Back to Wednesday Night Poetry

I’ve been invited to return as a feature poet to Wednesday Night Poetry, the event in downtown Hot Springs that began on February 1, 1989 and will mark on Wednesday this week 1575 consecutive Wednesdays with never a miss. My feature will be toward the end of October, giving me time to return to writing and reading poetry before my set.

It’s odd, or maybe not, that I tend not to share my poetry as fully or as frequently as I share my fiction and my nonfiction prose and my personal rants. Perhaps it’s because I think people tend to judge poetry and the people who write poetry (who may not call themselves poets), assuming the writers ascribe lofty qualities to themselves. I don’t know why that is, but it’s a sense I feel very keenly. One can call oneself a writer with impunity; calling oneself a poet invites implicit contempt and disdain, as if the poet uses the term to distance himself from the riff-raff beneath him. My perception may be utterly erroneous; but I feel it, not only when I am the “poet” but when I witness others’ judgment of those who write poetry.

Poetry once required conscious efforts to understand meter and rhyme and rhythm. Those requirements, coupled with the sometimes complex (convoluted, perhaps?) messages conveyed in poetry, made the form inaccessible to many. Maybe it was that inaccessibility, and the complexity that tested the intellect, that caused some people to consider poets and poetry haughty and imperious. Poetry today, though, tends not to be confined by incomprehensible rules; it more purely captures emotions and perceptions through unconstrained language. At least that’s the way I see it.  At the moment, anyway.

Reading one’s poetry to an audience is embarrassing in the sense that the act exposes emotions that one tends to hide behind a hard-surface façade. It doesn’t take bravery; it takes a willingness to be subject to unspoken ridicule. But the audience for Wednesday Night Poetry is gracious and welcoming, commending even bad poetry and encouraging the timid with raucous applause. That generosity of spirit contributes to the comfort and relative safety of the weekly event.

Since my last (my second) appearance as a feature poet, I’ve written quite a bit of poetry. But I’ve written very little during the past several months. Much to my surprise, though, I’ve posted six or seven short and obtuse poems on my blog during the past six months. I guess I’ve been more prolific than I thought. As I searched through poems I’ve written within the last two or three years, I was surprised at the volume of material. I was surprised, too, that many of the poems I wrote still tug sharply at my emotions. My poetry, it seems, captures more of my emotional life than my prose. Maybe that’s why I tend not to share it as freely as prose. But maybe the exposed nerves in poetry are what make it powerful.

I have to be in the “right” mood to write poetry in which I find any value, personally. I can write poetry any time, but it tends to be hollow and seems artificial if I’m not in a mood suited for it. During the past several months, in spite of having written more poems than I remembered writing, I think I tended to steer clear of poetry because my poems would have exposed fears and sadness that simply mirrored my reactions to having cancer. No one wants to read self-absorbed litanies of pity; not even me.

I’m looking forward to the end of October, despite trepidation and worries that I might be the exception to the rule of audience generosity and grace. I better get back in the “right” mood and produce more poetry.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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