"What strange beast would turn its life into words?"
When I was introduced to Adrienne Rich at 18, by the only lesbian faculty member on campus, who sadly, was actually just a heretical, dramatic, straight male from the English Department, it was the first time I concieved of poetry (pun intended) as anything practical, as anything useful, as anything necessary.
"Dream of a Common Language" was a manual, a road map, a survival guide for me. I felt her cadence, her word choice, her longing and utter lack of sentimentality so deeply at such an impressionable age, that to this day, they live in the root of my tongue, giving form to the way that I speak to myself. Nearly 20 years later, I know that every line I have written since owes its birth, in some genetic way, to her, just as I do.
Am I a poet? No, not in the way that you mean.
I don't read poetry. Modern poets make me uncomfortable - the endless self examination, (right, I got a lot of nerve) and the experimentation with the mechanics of language, the thesaurausness of it - They give me the same creepy crawlies that beginning songwriters do: too much passion, not enough editing, too much reliance of cleverness instead of simple truth. I clench up the same way I suspect men do just as someone kicks them in the nads.
God knows (and I hope has forgiven me) that I have committed more bad writing than most. Do the math- I've written more (I write about everything- cars, breakfast, sex, the perfection of Lester Bang's caption writing in Creem Magazine...whatever... I have a thought, I'm compelled to write) than most regular people would, so it stands to reason I have committed more crimes against language.
As I've gotten older, I've gotten much less earnest, so I've gotten better. The fact remains though, that if I have loved, lusted after, or longed for you, chances are I have written a song/verse/letter of intent for you. Or maybe simply about you. You maybe don’t know about it, but it’s there, some where in the archives. I have a wicker chest that some ex gave me full of marble notebooks, reciepts, matchbooks, index cards, envelopes and traffic tickets that I have written lines on. Somebody, some day will have to throw all that away.
The final product was probably very sad and likely rendered impenetrable by allusions that only have meaning to me. I maybe brought it to you like a gift, or I hurled it at you like a brick, or it's in that box, waiting to be thrown into the trash by my heirs. A whole history of my brain, heart and labia throbbing together in inchoate misery, the whole unholy triumvirate quivering with the desire to make you understand. You poor woman.
Now, this addiction didn't sprang fully formed from the forehead of Rich- I’ve used this writing thing in conjunction with loving women my whole life. Since 9th grade and my crush on Megan (swoon....), the third string forward on the basketball team. Conversation just doesn’t do it. I just can’t have a conversation with somebody the way that my head really talks. I don't chat, I do blood transfusions. You poor woman. I am sorry.
I actually consider it a sign of health and maturity that I didn't write a damn thing about my most recent ex- not in courtship, not in situ, and not over the break up. No song, no poem, not even a meaningful IM. Yeah, she got some generic lovey dovey cards, but nothing over the top.
I managed to fail in a relationship like a normal person: without literary devices.
It's not the 'not writing' part' that I consider the improvement. It's the 'not giving away everything I've got' part. The 'not expecting some magical response from somebody just because I chose to crack myself open like a geode and show them the rough shiny stuff.' I finally grasped that no matter how well I write/sing/build birdhouses, how much of my truth I expose, understanding is never guaranteed, I am not owed an equally intense, complicated response, it may be impossible and undesirable for someone to really get inside my head, and frankly, having seen the inside of my head, it's a little un-sexy.