Those who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I have a “writing room.” Back in the seventies, this room was the formal living room, and after my second son was born, I transformed it into my studio (since I had willingly transformed my previous study into a nursery). In this room, we installed a large picture window that looks out across Lake Elbert. I do most of my writing in view of the lake.
But today’s post is less about the room itself and more about that window — the one that allows me to clear my head of other outside influences and reach a state of creative clarity. This morning, you see, I had to go outside to clean the window. Living on a lake means tolerating the Daddy Longlegs, dirt dobbers, and other occasional creepy crawlies that want to claim your open porch as home. But when they start to encroach on my view, then the gloves are off. As I was scrubbing, I realized, as many poets have, the metaphorical power of windows. Granted, this was not some new, earth-shaking revelation, but simply a restatement of prior knowledge: windows in literature have served as eyes, symbols of transparency or opacity, and they have taken on a wide range of other meanings, depending on the work’s needs.
For us as writers, however, our window on the world (both literally and figuratively) must always remain unclouded. If we allow streaks or stains in the form of distractions, worldly worries, or doubts about our abilities, then the inspiration stops. Just as the window works best when clean, so too, does our writerly vision work best when we free it from the dust of politics, society, career, and finances. Maybe your window is clouded with something else — grief or glee, negative or positive stress. No matter what the “smudges,” we as creatives must get out our mental Windex, and keep the view inspirational. Clean your window, reader. Your work will thank you for it.
Recently I’ve had the privilege of providing feedback to a budding poet whose work has been compiled into a chapbook. I see a lot of my own history in this poet’s words — as he has been exploring the tools of the trade, there’s the occasional overuse of alliteration (we both love the smart rhythm and happy repetition of consonant sounds), but there’s also this vibrant joy that comes with writing for writing’s sake.
This gentleman’s work has reminded me of my own roots as a fledgling poet. Before any fancy MFA programs, before any acceptance letters or awards, there I was — that beginner who scribbled out potent images and happily entangled words for the sake of seeing and hearing their interplay with one another. At some point along the writing journey, as I learned more of the “rules” and what to expect from diverse audiences and editors, somehow a little bit of that word-joy vanished. Writing poetry became about using literary devices and styles that others dictated were “the right way.” And while others’ perspectives are always helpful (even when they’re hurtful), at some point we as poets must step back from others’ voices and ask ourselves, “Is this really ME?” We would be wise to adhere to the admonition that Polonius gives to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all else: to thine own self be true.”
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider others’ points or feedback; indeed, if we want to excel as writers, listening to credible responses will strengthen our work greatly. But when that advice begins to fly in the face of one’s own vision, then it’s time to gain some distance for the sake of clarity. In a few days, I will be headed over to Tampa for my summer MFA residency. While there, I will be engaged in workshops and seminars, many of which are intended for the critique and strengthening of my poems. As I listen to my peers and hear their thoughts (positive and negative) about my creations, I hope that I can keep that beginning-writer passion alive. When the bliss of writing is gone, nothing remains but sheer mechanics and accumulated letters. And when writing becomes the equivalent of intellectual ditch-digging, it’s time to stop.
Blog followers and fans, THANK YOU. Because of your loyal support and great word-of-mouth promoting poetjohndavisjr.com, I am proud to announce that this weekend, my 2005 collection, Growing Moon, Growing Soil, will be available FREE on Kindle to those who would like a copy. The promotion begins on Friday and ends on Sunday, so grab a copy while you can! The site, at last count, has 257 followers, well above my initial hopes of 200. With your continued support and avid readership, my hope is to make this site into something that every artist, writer, and creative can enjoy. Plans for the future include video clips of readings, audio files of certain pieces, poetry prompts, and lots more. Thank you again for your confidence; please see below for a link to the Kindle version of my book for your complimentary use:
Also, if any technical issues arise with the promotion, please provide feedback here. Happy reading!