How I Got to Be a Poet
I know writers who began to dictate stories to a sympathetic mother at age four, before they could write themselves, and poets who began writing poetry in elementary school and have never stopped. I am not of that tribe.
Dutifully, I completed whatever writing assignments my teachers handed to me, and by high school I was beginning to exhibit some facility with words, but I had no particular passion for writing. I erratically kept a diary; I suppose expressing some of the usual teenage angst.
My freshman English teacher in college introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book, and taught us how to do a syntactic imitation, both of which heightened my awareness of language and its power.
As for poetry, in high school I wrote a little short cinquain/haiku hybrid that was published in one of those books that accepts everything that is sent to them, in hopes of selling you a copy just because something you wrote is in it. My family didn’t take the bait.
My sophomore year of college, we were assigned the task of writing a sonnet. I don’t remember my teacher having anything to say about it (I suppose I received a completion grade), but a friend responded to it with such derision that I simply shrugged and said, “So I’m not a poet.”
During my college career…
…keeping a commonplace book became something of a habit, and besides being a repository for things I read and wanted to keep, it was also a journal of sorts.
Journaling faded for a time, however, and I don’t think I resumed much writing until after my children were born, when my still-erratic writing reflected either my responses to motherhood, or to the Bible study I was involved in at the time. Still no poetry.
In the late 1980’s, I became a volunteer counselor at a local Crisis Pregnancy Center, and one year I wrote a short monologue in the voice of a woman who had had an abortion and found it engraved indelibly in her memory.
I hoped that perhaps it might be read in church on a Sunday dedicated to pro-life issues, but that was not to be.
Eventually, that piece began to change, with line breaks into shorter lines, word and phrase repetition that lent a more distinct rhythm to the language, and it gradually morphed into a poem. I pulled it out from time to time and worked on it a bit more, and each time it got a little shorter.
I think I must have returned to it off and on over about a ten-year period, and in 2008, I stumbled across a Christian poetry contest and submitted the poem.
To my delight, it received an honorable mention and a cash prize. *Well, maybe I’m a poet after all.
Poet Monk Rhonda Brown
I had also in the few years prior…
…to that joined the Arizona State Poetry Society after learning about it from a friend who was a member, and I began to associate with a group of people who were writing poetry, encouraging others to do the same, and who responded to one another’s work with respect and gentle critiquing.
I was growing into this poetry thing, and it was more and more natural to process my life through poems.
But, until just a couple of years ago, I think poetry was always dead last on my priority list. From 1998 to 2005 I was a full-time high school English teacher, and poetry wasn’t much in the picture.
The fall of 2006 was the beginning of a couple of years of dealing with and recovering from a non-malignant brain tumor, and for several years after that volunteering with Friends of Internationals, leading a weekly Bible class for the children of visiting Chinese scholars, was a consuming and joyful occupation.
I wrote poetry fairly steadily, but it wasn’t at the center of my attention.
I shared my work regularly with a couple of poetry groups in the Arizona State Poetry Society, and with a few other encouraging friends, but made almost no effort to seek publication.
Every now and then I would tally up the number of poems that I had in the poetry folder on my computer, and occasionally I would send one off to a contest.
I’ll have more to say another time about my apparent lack of a competitive spirit, and what can probably only be described as laziness in not searching harder for opportunities to publish, but that’s for later.
In the spring of 2018…
…when my co-teachers and I turned the Chinese children’s class over to other leaders, I decided that I would spend the coming year really focusing on poetry.
That’s over two years ago now, but a book of poems has been taking shape, and I have been blessed with some wonderful help from some people who know something about getting these things done.
They said, “You need a website,” so here I am making a beginning with a website and a blog that may or may not appear regularly.
I’ll be writing more about what makes me tick, and sharing some poems with you to give you a sense of what’s in the book.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to have fun with this.
Hope you do too!