Trust Your "Self" First in Writing Poetry
Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and yes--Richard Brautigan, the San Francisco poet--all favorites of mine whom I delight in reading again and again: real individuals who had a distinct vision of life and imparted it with a class and style of their own! All these poets listened to themselves and trusted what Ralph Waldo Emerson classified as "one's heart strings" or your true self.
Refer again to the poets mentioned, and you will see a string of unmistakenable individuals who each had his or her own method of "saying with words." And we can see in Dickinson, Whitman and Cummings, human beings who eventually redirected the course of poetry. Emily Dickinson, the young 18th century rebel, freely broke poetic conventions of meter and rhyme, delivering short, intense poetry with feminine flare. E.E. Cummings blew the doors of conventional poetry open with a poetic license that let him creatively spill language over the white page--how beautiful! Walt Whitman gave us a view of life and man that is sacred and humble, but perhaps, way, way ahead of its time.
These classic poets remain today as mentors who shouted a message to seek the voice within--then trust it. Allow the real self to emerge and let it speak with virgin tongue. Put the poet back into poetry! Too often when writing, we fearfully camouflage ourselves and hide behind the false lines we make public, succumbing to acceptability. As rock star Jim Morrison would later proclaim, "Break on through to the other side," lest we sink "in mute nostril agony/ carefully refined and sealed over." Good advice, Jim!
At the core of each poem, we should find the poet. It's his or her unique voice we look for and hope to hear--no other. Too often that voice may become intimidated during the study of formal poetry. One may become influenced by the detailed attention to mechanics, analysis of poetic meaning(s) or self-righteous instruction, and true self-expression never shows its face.
Don't be denied. Release your inner being and shout. Read and listen to the poets mentioned earlier of the ones you love, but say it your way. If you haven't had the chance to listen to Dylan Thomas read "Fern Hill" in his Welsh accent or hear Robert Frost's graveled, yet warm "grandfather" voice, I suggest you get a CD of their readings to feel the passion. Their tone reflects the sincerity and feelings of individuals who did not look to others first, but rather their own truth.
Do not deny the real self! No better words of advice have been given. As Polonius shared with his son, Laertes (from Shakespeare's Hamlet): "This above all: To Thine Own Self Be True." Don't hide the real you!
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