This is a story about how setting a goal can enrich one’s life, and a story about going with the flow and letting life unfold, as it will.
Sometime in late 2020, my roommate introduced me to the Poetry Unbound podcast. I think you might like it. I was intrigued since poetry has always been hard for me—to read or write. After one episode, the poetry and the poet who read it hooked me. The secret sauce of this podcast is that Irish poet and public theologian Padraig O’Tuoma reads a poem with his Irish lilt of an accent. Then he makes a few remarks about the content—sometimes he comments about the poem’s construction or about the poet’s intent. He might discuss what stood out to him as a reader, and gives some directional signs for poetry novices like me. Then he reads the poem again, and this time, I hear the poem with new ears.
I powered through all of the episodes until I came to the end of the season, and began listening to them again. I developed some favorites and found that I settled into sleep more serenely when I listened to O’Tuoma read before bed.
The New Year came. I do not make resolutions, but I do choose things I am interested in exploring or working on, and so I set out to write a poem a week for the entire year. I knew this was lofty, but I was undeterred. What I have learned about setting goals is that the results and outcomes are less important than the journey a goal sets before me.
I began hearing poetry swirling in my head as a faucet turned on full blast. I wrote down everything that came to mind. I saw them as poetry prompts and most of the time they went nowhere, but again, I was exploring so it did not matter.
In April, I learned that it was national poetry month, and the university where I work featured videos of poetry professors reading their poetry. A few more internet clicks led me to discover one of the poets featured on the podcast would teach the poetry track at the Summer Writers Institute.
As an employee, I can take classes free of charge. I studied the creative non-fiction track of the institute previously, and during that intensive course, our professor told us that if we want to master prose, we should study poetry. This felt like the time to take her advice. This poetry exploration was gaining steam.
In our first class as a form of introduction, we shared why we enrolled in the course. I told the story about my professor’s poetry suggestion, and then I added, I do not really get poetry. I am taking the class to learn how to read poetry and not feel so lost.
In the course of three-week curriculum, I wrote five poems. I used some of the ideas from the notebook where I was writing down my poetry snippets. At the end of the session, my professor suggested I submit my work to several top-tier publications. I was truly stunned. My professor also reflected on what a transformation they had witnessed in me during the class. They walked me through specifics of pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts while working full time. I kept whispering to myself, I wrote real poetry. I can write poetry. I was delighted, and understood firsthand how poetry was yet another tool in my writer’s toolkit. The other gift of that class was my fellow poets. I still hear the work they created in my head. There was some tremendous talent among my classmates. A few of us were not ready for the class to end, so we set aside the last Saturday of each month to gather, read each other’s work, and bask in the love of words and new community we built.
I planted seeds, nurtured the soil of my exploration, and enjoyed watching what took root and began to grow. By the end of 2021, I did not have 52 poems. What I gained was confidence and community in ways I could not have imagined in January. I still fall asleep to Poetry Unbound episodes, and I cannot wait for the new selection of poetry due this spring.
Full disclosure: I have not submitted my poems for publication. Once the shock of my professor’s encouragement wore off, I got scared. I am not afraid of the rejection note. I am scared of seeing my name in print in a genre that is still brand new.
Please note: we are works in progress. This is my work to do. I am moving closer to submitting the poems.