Each of us had photocopies of our best poems to share anonymously. The point was to give constructive criticism to each other to help write better poetry.
I brought copies of my favorite, The Wind. I had received many compliments from my English teacher on the poem and I was hoping to polish it. Even my parents had gushed over how wonderful it was.
Instead, the literary group ripped it to shreds. According to a few, vocal members of the group, it was the worst thing ever written and whoever wrote it should put down their pen forever in shame. It didn’t matter that their critique was the same for almost all the poetry read that day. I only heard the words directed, anonymously, at me.
I was sure everyone would know who wrote the poetic atrocity by the way my face flushed. I decided I was no poet and this would never happen again. I destroyed all copies of The Wind and moved on. I continued to write, but nothing that resembled fanciful verse.
Years later I started attending open mics to become comfortable with being in front of crowds. Usually poems were read, so I wrote a few poems, but I put no part of me in them. Myself I kept hidden away. I wouldn’t bring that out for ridicule again.
Except… I wasn’t ridiculed. The open mic groups I’ve attended were warm and open. I’ve heard poetry I’ve hated and poems I love but all have been accepted equally. I’ve gotten braver and shared more of the private parts of me almost no one knows. Still no rejection.
I could say the acceptance is making me careless and more vulnerable to attack… but I think the older, hopefully wiser, me no longer cares. I’ve started writing more poetry lately than I have since those younger, angsty days. Why poetry? I wondered this evening. Why poetry after all these years?
Poetry taps into the fluid part of my mind that speaks in omen and metaphor. That part of me finds significance in a chance bird flying over head, in the eyes of a staring cat and in the bristles behind a spider’s leg. Poetry is how I can cry without tears and whisper secrets without telling.
After all this time I come full circle, back to that memory of my first real critique as a writer when my thin skin broke like a bubble against their harsh words. Why poetry? I asked myself then and I had answered, Never again.
But here I am at again, and it’s not as bad as I remember. And now, even that memory of violent humiliation is fodder for some poem I will probably write and call The Wind.
Why poems? Because they are there.