Once again, my attempts at getting back on track with fiction writing have been thwarted. I thought that writing an essay, reading the Christian craft book, and doing some soul searching about why it is that I’m doing this would push me to the point of having some kind of worthwhile idea. Unfortunately, it just isn’t happening. Right now it’s getting to the point where I just need to be writing something. I don’t care if it’s fiction or nonfiction or the text on the back of a cereal box. I’m just getting desperate. I’m really happy right now, and although the Bible tells us to be content in all circumstances (writer’s block or no), I feel like the one thing missing is some kind of creative endeavor. It isn’t that I’m distracted or too busy with other things. It’s just that it just isn’t happening.

So what did I do? Since switching to nonfiction helped me to get my fingers moving by writing about myself freely, I decided this week to try something completely different: a return to poetry. Although nonfiction and I have the most fickle relationship of all the genres, I used to be really apprehensive about writing poems. I used to have a serious problem with wordiness, and the idea of reducing a description or idea to just a few words gave me serious discomfort. It was, however, something I got better at. My first published work was a poem, and that’s worth noting. But I still carried a lot of reservations about my poems, in spite of the fact that my adviser at Ohio Northern was always extremely encouraging. I’ve always been hard on myself and tend to take praise even harder than I do criticism. I think it’s an affliction a lot of creative types deal with.

In graduate school, I took a poetry workshop with Mary Ann Samyn. She’s a brilliant poet, the author of several collections of poetry that wowed me before I even really talked to her or set foot in her class. To be honest, I was intimidated – my poetry skill set was limited, and hers was astonishing. Quickly, though, I found that her unique way of folding criticism and praise for her students work in onto themselves meshed well with my own tendency toward hypercriticism. Mary Ann was completely honest about my work, in both its strong points and weak points – and in such a way that I was comfortable receiving both positive and constructive remarks on my poems in a way I wasn’t before.

I was also quickly inspired. Most of my poems for the semester comprised an interconnected chapbook of persona work about the 1965 murder of sixteen year old Sylvia Likens by her foster mother and several neighborhood children. However, I also found myself exploring other topics – the Kent State shootings, which figured prominently in my thesis, Mrs. Beasley of Family Affair fame, Robert Altman films, and my battle with an autoimmune illness during college. I was pushed to explore different writing styles and model my work after the poets we we read, people like Charles Wright, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, and Lucie Brock-Broido. By the time I left workshop, I felt comfortable with myself as a poet, although it would be over a year before I attempted it again.

I wrote poetry last summer as a post-thesis decompression exercise, but this marks my return to the genre, the first since starting my job last fall. Having been snowed in for the past few days from the monster blizzard of the midwest, I started thinking about potential poem topics, and gradually, that rush I get from being driven to produce began to return. I wrote two poems yesterday; an additional two today. And the array of subject matter was astonishing – a memorable night walk in the woods, Buddy Holly, Biblical stories, and my life according to Disney movies. All of them were completely different in style, subject, and tone – and proved to me that even though my abilities appear to have gone into hibernation, they are still there. Poetry is funny like that. Between it and nonfiction, poetry always seems to bring out the best in my writing when I’m not into fiction.

I often wonder if I’m poisoning my desire to write fiction simply by dwelling on it so much. I think primarily of Psalm 37 – “wait on the Lord.” Patience has never been something I’m good at, and what I’ve found is that when I pray for patience, He always gives me a situation where developing patience is required in order to get through it. This is one of those times. Part of me thinks that I need to get hooked on chapbook writing again. I’m done doing the dead girl thing – I should have given up writing about child murder cases awhile back, actually, and this is one reason why the NaNo novel ended up being crap. Sometimes you just have to let some topics go because they’ve outlived their welcome. But I think that if I can find a poetry project that I can really wrap myself around, that can drive my thoughts forward in a way that only thinking about writing can, I might be that much closer to finding my project. At least this is what I’m praying for – an expansion of small ideas, of phrases and details.

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