So a strange thing happened while I was doodling and making notes about my favorite American Idol performances--I found myself writing down one of judge Harry Connick Jr's comments, "Work on the things that are hard. Work on the things that make you uncomfortable and you will improve."
I love that advice.
What is hard for me? What makes me uncomfortable? Poetry.
No form of writing makes me feel more stupid than poetry. I still vividly remember one of my high school teachers quoting a poem in which the narrator feels "big as a house."
My teacher: "Of course that means she's pregnant."
Me: What the huh? I thought she was fat. Man, am I stupid.
Poetry plagued me in college, too. Those fat Norton anthologies contained stumps of partial stories (who wants to read part of a story?!?!?) packed between poems, poems, poems, and more poems.
I would never want to be married to a guy who wrote poems for me. Just watching contestants on the Bachelor read poems makes me squeamish.
About a year ago, I decided to tackle my poetry problem. Poetry might make me feel stupid, but fearing an entire literary genre is stupid. I bought Sage Cohen's Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry.
Slowly I've read through each chapter and worked through most of the writing exercises. I've written a lot of bad poetry in my writing practice notebook. But I'm determined to shape a few of those messes into something worth reading. Although I did scrawl a note next to one verse-y passage, "maybe a better short story?" No. I will make it a poem first.
I can't say that I'm comfortable with poetry yet, but I have been reading poetry before bed. I started with the accessible Billy Collins and now I can say that I'm actually enjoying Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska's collected work. I vow to continue reading poetry--just a few poems a day. I can't say that I understand all that I'm reading, but every now and then I feel a spark of joy when a poem speaks to me. I get it! I get it! Yes!
I'm going to continue to write poetry, even though I really do suck at it. Even though it scares me more than spiders and snakes. I do think that my study of poetry has helped me think about word choice, description, and unique phrasing in my fiction writing. Harry Connick Jr. is right: work on what's hard, work on what's uncomfortable and you will improve.