Anybody Can Write a Poem: An Open Letter 💗

10:48 PM

Dear Writer,

Keep going.

Toni Morrison once said, "I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it." So simple. Yet so deep. She wrote what she wanted to read, but maybe didn't see on bookshelves. And by doing so, she wrote the story of many Black women. She added beautifully to the tapestry that is womanhood and Blackness and social justice and literature. But her starting point was simple - writing what she wanted to read.

I have so many friends who reach out to me to share their words, their poetry. And every. single. piece. has been deeply beautiful. From poems with 3 lines to poems of 3 pages. From mythological metaphors to thoughts while taking out the garbage on a warm summer day. From poems about lovers to poems about loss. Every time I'm honored to read another person's work, their heart on paper, I make sure to tell them how much their words matter. How deep their thoughts are. How there's beauty in vulnerability. There is no wrong way to write a poem. Period.

And yet, there is a world, a system that we live in that values certain types of intellect or writing over others. I've experienced that system from adolescence to graduate shcool. Comparison traps us under the weight of fear. The fear that our words, as they come out, are not good enough. We tell ourselves, "If I can't write like [insert your favorite famous poet here], or I can't turn an allegory into something that has 'depth' then I'm not a poet." Or "I'm not a writer." Which is wild to me, because I would argue that your favorite poet would probably insist that, "Anybody can write a poem." Anybody. And that poem would be beautiful and have meaning and depth, simply because you wrote it.

I have had my fair share of rejections from magazines. It is part of a writer's journey to publication. Some editors have sent examples of the type of poetry they prefer to read. And their preference is their's to have, to be sure. We don't all have to like the same things. But, those poems that they share with me as the "goal post" of poetry are often ones that are not my goal post. I prefer accessible poetry and writing, as many people do.

Let me be clear that my preference for accessible writing and poetry in no way means that poets who employ other methods from the vast library of literary devices don't deserve a place at the publication table. They absolutely do. Because, again, "Anybody can write a poem."

But who is defining the goal post? I have sometimes been told that my work is too specific, too subjective. Too Black. Too woman. Too rooted in my experience. I once wrote a poem about my grandmother and in response to it, an editor told me, "I can't see myself in this story." (Before you ask, yes, this was a non-Black person). They also said, "It is hard to discern much else from this piece, aside from what is quite literally presented." Essentially: the story you tell here, that is wrapped in Black womanhood and familial trauma, doesn't leave much to my imagination. And because I haven't lived it, I can't really make meaning of it.

That rejection was hard for me. Rejection is always hard, but this one hit home in a different way. It felt like this editor's critiques were not just about personal preference. Their critique suggested that this story, my story, in all its Black ass glory, did not have a place in their hall of poetic elites. I didn't submit for a few weeks after that. I felt myself growing discouraged. Until a close friend of mine shared a poem with me, the first poem she'd written in years. I immediately applauded her, simply because she wrote her truth. She downplayed my applause with an, "Lol, thanks, although it's not very good." To which I replied, "It is good! We define 'good' for ourselves, sis." And then I sat there, reading my own words, and realized I needed to keep that same energy for myself, too.

Therefore, in an effort to channel my inner Toni Morrison, I affirm this: I write the poems that I want to read. I write the stories that I don't see being written. That is my truth. And no one, aside from me, is the gatekeeper of my truth.

So, fellow writer. Write the poem. Write the story. Write that screenplay. Write that letter or postcard. Write in your journal. Submit your writing, if that be your aspiration. Or share with friends and family. Or simply hold it sacred to your heart. Your words are deep. They have value. And no one can take that away from you.


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