Tuesday, June 1, 2010

5,670 Poems in the Trash

One of the things that keeps me from sitting down at my computer every morning is the fear of bad poems. It's so discouraging to write a bad poem--even more so than writing no poem at all (it could have been a good poem, right?).

I'm going to be on a panel at the Kachemak Bay Writer's Conference titled What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me 10 Years Ago and I've been thinking about what I want to contribute to the discussion. I think my biggest regret is simply that I didn't write more poems (well, and that I didn't find Mary Oliver 10 years earlier).

When I was an undergrad at Colby I met the National Book Award-winning poet William Stafford. I cheekily emailed him a letter and some poems since he was living in Portland, where I was from. Amazingly, he wrote me back, said he liked my poems (which was an act of enormous generosity on his part because they were terrible) and invited me to come chat with him when I got home for the summer. So I did--I rode the bus up to Lewis & Clark college one day and we chatted about poetry for a few hours. It sort of felt like one of those imaginary conversations you have with God--if you had two hours, what would you talk about? I can't remember now what we did talk about, but I remember his kindness and his encouragement to keep writing, no matter what.

He said once that he wrote a poem every day of his life. In preparing for this conference I looked him up and it turns out he published 57 volumes of poetry. He didn't publish his first book until he was 48. So, if we assume he started writing seriously then (and of course he'd have been writing before then), and we assume each book has about 40 poems (the average) then he published approximately 2,280 poems (obviously I'm guessing here, but go with me on this). So, then if we assume he was true to his word and wrote a poem every day of his life, for 30 years, that means he wrote approximately 7,950 poems. So, if we do the math...that means that National Award-winning poet William Stafford threw away approximately 5, 670 poems!

That really helped put things in perspective for me.

1 comment:

Homeric Geek said...

That is truly amazing. Thank you very much for sharing that, it helps me tremendously. As you said, it puts things in perspective and it gives us permission to write total garbage if necessary. Or like I read somewhere, "You need manure to grow pretty flowers." Thanks again.