i love poetry

What’s up party poetry people?! Welcome to my poetry blog.  This is my rambling intro to you. My name is Ry. Ry Downey if you’re interested in googling me (giggity) but I’m not sure it will turn up anything interesting. I’m a citizen of Planet Earth and I might be from Mars. Or Venus, because I believe in love more than I do war. Yes, Venus. Definitely Venus. I love the thought of aliens and space–I’m a lover of nature and sunshine and laughing so hard I cry. I love my friends and my family and anything that makes me feel love and appreciation and gratitude for having lived this long on this beautiful rock floating through the stars. And then comes poetry.

I actually didn’t think I was good at poetry. Short stories and longer form stuff were always my go-to thing. In school all my poetry came off sounding like someone trying to write poetry–the kiss of death for any would-be poet. I’ve always had a love for poetry though–early on in life, many different people were instrumental in convincing me that poetry is cool, the list including such luminaries as Robin Williams (Dead Poets Society, anyone!?), Jim Morrison, Jack Kerouac, and my high school English teacher, Dr. Pitts.

About a year ago, I found my voice. And yes, it was as magical as it sounds. I’d always heard of “voice” and how important it is for a writer to have…basically the missing ingredient to any equation of written art. The place where power, thrust, drive, magic in writing come from. The sound of a writer who is confident and aware of the things he is doing in his work. I spent a lot of time wondering if I had found my voice and what it would feel like when I had–would I know it when it came? My answer to this last question is an emphatic YES. When you find your voice it will inspire you to create more and at least feel the confidence necessary to push yourself when it gets to feeling almost impossible. This finding of the voice happened about a year ago. In that time I’ve written about 60-ish poems. I’m not sure how many are good or worthy of being published, but what I do know is that they are capable of affecting people and evoking emotion. It is in this spirit of good faith that I have started this blog. If you happen to like my work, please share it to as many people as possible–and if at all possible, please keep my name next to whatever you share. It is very appreciated. My ego is still alive and well, as you can see. They say what is important is the work itself, but I also argue that these poems contain the most concentrated experiments of alchemy I’ve ever attempted (excusing the labors of love in my relationships). So yes please, keep my name when sharing these things. Oh, and please, if you need to describe me or my work to someone, please use the phrase “acid-drenched Bukowski” somewhere in there. I appreciate it.

Inspirations: Charles Bukowski, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Robin Williams, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Allen Ginsburg, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Joy Williams, Nahko Bear, Brandon Boyd, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Hayao Miyazaki, Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, James Baldwin.

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Writing as Looking Inward To Reach Out

So. This is the third or fourth essay on craft that I’ve written in a relatively short period of time. It may seem weird, I guess, since I’ve only had one story published to be having such firmly put ideas about what writing is and what it should be. But I guess this is a way for me to continually re-evaluate what writing is for me. And I hope that by doing this, I’ll be able to shed some light on it for others. Until I had written the essays, I really had no idea that I believed all these things about writing until I had finally written them down. I’ve been thinking about writing a lot, especially the purpose of it, or our motivations for it and lately I’ve come to the decision that it’s both very simple and very complicated. The reasoning I ran into while trying to wheedle out why we do what we do was ultimately ouroborous-like in nature. Once I had reached the end I had simply found that I had reached the beginning. When someone is foolhardy or sincere enough (not mutually exclusive) to actually ask the question of why one writes, he will invariably be given a list at once pretentious, sincere, ironic, and flippant by getting all different sorts of answers. This is to be expected, especially when considering what a diverse group of people can be found in a writing workshop. This particular question, I believe, is a twin, a mirror of the question, “What do you owe your audience and who do you believe that to be?” These two questions are at the top of a hierarchy of questions that are both posed to writers by others and that writers pose to themselves in quiet moments before, after, or even during the writing process. The reason these two questions are so important is the fact that they’re two separate sides of the same coin that may reveal the real purpose behind writing. By figuring one out, we can flip the formula and figure the second out.

The first question, why we write, is just almost too overwhelming and multi-faceted to even begin to wrap our heads around. For example, every writer probably has a different reason and most likely will have a host of different reasons all in descending order in his head–some reasons may be more powerful for others–but the first thing that happens with every writer occurs by himself with a blank page. I think that’s the first thing to consider. Before asking anyone’s permission to write, before we say that we wrote a story, before we say that we like writing, we first encounter the blank page and we learn the pleasure that it is to un-blank it. To fill it in, to decrease the negative space of that blank page. When we fill this negative space, we do so with things dredged up from within us. Each word is something we feel, think, wonder, posit, and on and on. And seeing this page become filled, in a way, legitimizes what we have felt and provides a way for us to look at ourselves in a new way, in a safe light that is free from judgment or from the fingerprints of anyone else in the world. This document and every one after it we create is, in a way, a piece of the last untouched soil in the world. The blank spaces on the map have been filled in, there are no more horizons to expand or explore, except for the ones that no one else can touch–until we let them. That’s step one. I believe, in a way, that’s why we write. We write to look inward. To bring the most honest parts of us to the surface and to fix them there and hold them up as artifacts of what we believe and who we are and what we value.

And so we then move on to the idea of what reader comes into our minds when we are working on our artifacts that we have dredged up from within. Normally, the answer that is given is usually along the lines of “someone who likes the same kind of works as me”. This probably isn’t too far from the truth, and yet, when we’re honest with ourselves, (literary writers, at least) we are usually meaning that the readers we imagine we are writing for are other versions of our very best selves. What I mean by this is that when writers put something down and before asking anyone else to read it, they decide that it’s good without asking for a second pair of eyes. They do it with only the judgment within themselves that the piece before them is up to their standards of what is good and that if they were the reader of the piece, they would find it worthy of their time and effort. And so if we writers are writing and judging a piece ourselves, where does the actual reader come in? Why is he necessary? Is he necessary? What responsibility does a writer have to the reader? I believe that where the reader comes in is right there—when the work is ready to be read, not only by the writer himself or his close friends, but by the public at large. When the writer’s book goes out into the world, the writer has essentially polished that original artifact from within and made it as perfect as it was possible to make it. Now, given that the writer has given this to the reader in order to make of it what he will, the question must be asked as to what the writer expects from the reader, which I believe to be the real question, or even what the asker of the question actually means when he asks what the writer’s ideal reader is, which is “what does the writer expect from his reader?” I believe that the writer expects the reader to be someone who is willing to put aside a great deal of time in order to read what he has written and to make a sizable effort in order to ascertain what it was the writer was trying to say with this piece of himself. Now, in order for this to occur, the writer must ascertain what it is he owes to the reader. This is, I think, ultimately the most important question regarding the writer/reader relationship. The writer has to determine what responsibility he has to his ideal reader. It is in this final decision the writer makes that determines how his writing will be seen—the object of writing as I see it, the purpose of it is to look inward to reach out. The whole act of writing is an act of introspection. In writing, we hold up that piece of ourselves to the reader and it is in that last holding up that we reach outward, letting the reader be the judge of that piece of ourselves we hold most dear, most secret, most sacred. And that is what the writer owes to the reader. The writer’s responsibility to the reader is to make that piece of himself that he has put into his book to be the truest, most honest piece of himself he can dredge up. No more, no less. The writer should not be glib, should not be flippant, should not be egotistical in his writing—he must write as if talking to a lover, as if talking to a best friend, as if talking to himself.

This was probably way too long of an essay in order to explore this pretty simple concept, but I’ve spent way too many nights and moments before, between, and after writing solely to contemplate this issue. After reading interview upon interview with authors in which the author is asked about his audience as well as the reason behind his writing, I think I actually came to a conclusion about how one can answer one question in order to get to the answer for the other.

Unleashing the Id: or (How to Get A Rough Draft Written)

Okay, full disclosure is needed: For those of you who excitedly opened this particular post in the hopes of finding a how-to list telling you exactly the steps needed to get that pesky first draft down onto paper, I offer my apologies. This will be more of an inspirational/analytical/thoughtful reflection on what exactly it is about the first draft that frightens us and how we can try to overcome that fear and just get the fucking thing written. Through the course of this post, I will most likely be quoting and paraphrasing a number of people, all of whom are probably wiser than me and better at the craft of writing. So, without further dudes, here’s my post.

What is something most writers have in common? We place enormous importance on words, specifically our words and the words of the writers we love. We want to live up to those writers and we want them to bestow their holy Pope’s blessing onto our lesser holy works. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been told before to imagine my favorite writer standing behind me, looking over my shoulder as I write. I’ll get it out of the way now while our relationship is still good: my favorite is Faulkner. So it’s not bad enough that this hypothetical writer looking over my shoulder, mine has to be the Faulkner. Now while this may be an awesome tip for revision, I think it’s a great way to drive a stake into the enthusiasm of an emerging writer to give instruction like this. The more we think about how our work is going to compare to others, the more palsied our writing process will become. There’s a reason Mark Twain said, “Against the power of laughter, nothing can stand.” A writer can do no better in talking about writing than to reference another master. Twain knew what all writers know–consciously or unconsciously–that the one thing we want is for our craft to be taken serious, even if we feign irony or ambivalence. It’s always there, especially when we’re starting out with nothing but a blank page. If we get nothing down onto the page for a day, we’re a failure. And anything we do get down automatically sucks and into the trash can it does. “Know thyself, know thy enemy.” The first part of this quote is up to you, but I know your enemy. It’s the enemy of all writers. Fear. We’ve already identified a few different types of fear so far. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of being laughed at. These are all valid fears. And they all act like kryptonite to the creative process. As we’ve identified the enemy and pinpointed its major sources (its different forms), now what to do about it? As those will tell you, it’s a lot easier to diagnose than to prescribe. I’ll attempt to do both. One down, one to go.

“The first draft of anything is shit.” -Ernest Hemingway

Despite my sordid past with and current feelings about Hemingway–which I’m sure you’ll become appraised of shortly–I think this is the cornerstone to overcoming the fear that we writers have about that first draft. It is shit. Your first draft is shit. My first draft is shit. Hemingway’s first drafts were shit! This is not–I repeat, not–an insult. This is actually something to treasure. Like Brad Pitt says in Fight Club, “This isn’t the end of the world.” For our first drafts, we have to eliminate the thought of others, the thought of failure, the thought of how its going to look, even the thought of us to a certain extent. For this, I’ll provide an example of one of my instances of palsied creativity.

Today, I was writing a really difficult transition in my story, “Limbo” and I just didn’t feel like I was doing it right, like it wasn’t happening. I just wasn’t feeling it. Each phrase I used sounded stupid and contrived. Suddenly, I wondered why I was thinking so hard about it. Why it was so important to get it done right now. Why it had to be perfect as soon as it came from my fingertips. This battle had been going on for three days now. I had written the opening of my story four different times because it didn’t sound good the first few times. And you know what? Each time I wrote the opening, it got a little better. I’m not saying everything about it was better, or that there weren’t things wrong with it. But that’s another thing to keep in mind: each time you do it, it gets better in some way. There may be some things you did better before and some things you did worse before. The important thing about this is that your understanding of the story gets better and deeper each time you write it. The trick is to save all that came before so that you can take the good from the old and the good from the new and combine them into something the best of both worlds.

After making that first discovery about writing things over and saving what came before, I remembered something I read from Chris Offutt’s essay, “Performing Surgery Without Anesthesia”: “The first draft requires an unbelievable subjectivity; you pour all your emotions into it, you stake your life on every word, you make yourself completely vulnerable on the page. You write in that white-hot heat like a drug experience.” And it clicked. It was true. The subjectivity he’s talking about is the inability to see your work as crap. Complete subjectivity. You write like you’re drugged or drunk–a state of inhibition. Who fucking cares? I’m getting drunk, I’m writing hundreds of words and accumulating story! That’s what you should be chanting. And I suddenly realized that’s what I needed to chant. Fuck everybody else. No one is as good as me (criminally narcissistic self-confidence aside) is what I suddenly felt. Freedom to think what I did was great, if even for a little while as I wrote in a feverish haze. Throw the kitchen sink–fuck the sink! the whole house–into it. You need to get it down and you need to feel good about getting it down and out. Or, as I put it very Freudiantly (haha), you need to unleash the Id. For a short psychology lesson, the super-ego (according to Freud) is the part of the mind that assimilates the rules, customs, mores, and taboos of a culture or society. This, metaphorically (and perhaps even literally) is the part of the mind that puts the creative handcuffs on us as we’re agonizing over what drunken and dubiously silent Bill Faulkner over there is going to say about our fucking baby, that piece of ourselves that we just carved out of us! Of our own being. And so the answer to overcoming this part of the mind is to unleash the Id. The Id, on the other hand, is the Lennon to the super-ego’s McCartney. The Id is the part of the mind that acts according to the “pleasure principle,” completely opposite of the restricted and rule-riddled super-ego. This is what we need for our first draft. We need the part of the mind this is beholden only to our pleasure in writing, to the impulses and instincts that drive our creativity, to that absolute subjectivity we impose on ourselves to get the first draft done. Now, please understand, I’m not suggesting we can actively rummage through our brain and find the “OFF” button for the super-ego. I’m using this basic psychological principle as a metaphor for the writing process. (It works quite nicely, don’t you think?) If it comes down to it, you can employ real-life props to put yourself in the mood. Play “I Just Don’t Give A Fuck” by Eminem on repeat, put on a hat that has “KEROUAC” printed on it, whatever does it for you, do it. I hope this has been helpful, and if it hasn’t, hopefully it’s been entertaining, and if not, I hope it was interesting; if not, then I have nothing else to say but “Fuck off!” Now, with my last little tongue in my cheek, I’ll leave you with some very appropriate words of someone smarter than I.

“A writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid.” -William Faulkner