What is it about poetry that’s so unpredictable and inconsistent?
Like most writers, I’m prone to fluctuating between “write as often as possible and ignore this concept of the ‘muse’ because it’ll never turn up” and “I can’t write, I have no inspiration”. The two are contradictory, and often I’m aiming for the former but the latter sneaks up on me and becomes a ready-made excuse for why I haven’t done anything for weeks except reblog gifs of tiny little rabbits being adorable.
But never does it hit so hard as with poetry. With prose, at least on the uninspired days I can still put words on paper, improve dialogue, figure out inconsistencies in plot — editing is always possible, even if first drafts aren’t. But poetry either happens or it doesn’t, and lately it’s been a lot more in the not-happening category than the happening one.
I attribute this mostly to the fact that I’m a total wreck at the moment, and instead of the type of depression I had in late 2013 that led to half a dozen late-night breakdowns and subsequent poems born of my existential angst, I’ve got the type that just leaves me numb. Emotions are pretty tricky. I keep finding it hard to tell whether I didn’t engage with a book because it was boring, or because I’m too depressed to feel stuff. And poetry is at heart an emotional thing, so I’m lacking one of the major components necessary to write it.
I realised this earlier when I got through my latest rejection. Over the last few months I submitted work to a handful of poetry magazines, and got rejected from pretty much all of them. My last few poems out on submission came back to roost yesterday, and so today I printed out the rejection emails and stuck them on the wall like a functional, well-adjusted human.
I figured I should probably start sending out a few more submissions to improve my chances of one day having an acceptance email, and went to open my poetry documents. A lot of those in Poems 2015 had already been sent out, and hadn’t got anywhere. Fine. I figured I’d come back to those a bit later, to try and find new homes for them. Time for Poems 2016.
Except Poems 2016 didn’t exist. Come to think of it, there wasn’t even a 2016 folder for my writing. Everything I’ve written so far this year — what little there is — belonged to particular novels or series, so had gone straight into those folders. I’d written nothing unique enough to need to be filed by date. No poems. Nothing.
Okay, so it’s March. I have time. But it was a bit of a shock to realise just how little I’d written so far this year.
I have actually written a handful of poems (literally, I think there were five), and put those online under a pseudonym. That disqualifies them for sending to magazines, but I added them to my newly formed Poems 2016 document anyway, just to reassure myself that I haven’t forgotten how to write poems. Mostly, anyway.
I do forget how to write poems, though. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without even a whisper of poetic thought. It’s like that part of my brain just turns off sometimes, and I could no sooner write a poem than play a trumpet concerto. (For the record, I can’t play any brass instruments.) Then, it comes back, often because I’m emotional or frustrated, and I write half a dozen in a couple of days. Rinse and repeat. Over and over again.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to make a living from poetry. Not just because nobody buys poetry (although they don’t), or because it’s very hard to get published as a newcomer to the poetry scene (although it is). But because poetry’s unreliable. It doesn’t turn up for work everyday. There’s no knowing when it’ll happen, and when it won’t.
I hate wishy-washy ideas of inspiration and The Muse and I subscribe to the butt-in-chair philosophy of writing. That even if there is a Muse, if you’re not at your desk when she turns up, you won’t be able to make use of their inspiration. But with poetry I find myself leaning towards them a lot more, because it’s simple fact that I can’t always write it.
That said, even when I do it can be terrible, so I think the Muse is not only unreliable but unqualified, too.
Anyway, this was a long-winded way of saying that all my poems got rejected, but I’ve spent the last hour frantically writing poems that, come the morning, I may think are abysmal. Maybe they are. One of them uses maths as a metaphor because I wrote it on squared paper which suggests I’m reaching at this point. I’m a terrible judge, though, so I’ll wait and see what a couple of friends think.
Poetry drives me nuts. It’s unreliable, inconsistent, unpredictable. It disappears for months on end, and when it turns up, there’s no knowing what state it’ll be in. I guess it’s a bit like me and my poor health in that respect. Maybe the both of us will get better over the next six months?
Let’s hope next time I talk poetry on this blog, it’s because I’ve actually managed to get some of it published…