Letter to the Young Poets
Dear young poets,
The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote about my writing experience. The words still ring true to me. In a nutshell: be fearless and write all of it because nothing is too big or too small sifted through the poet’s filter. You and your words are necessary. Especially now.
A tributary flows into a larger body. A branch grows out from a main axis. Either way there is a whole and the parts of a whole and movement, always movement. A gesture towards merging.
I have always been a writer in waiting.
Waiting and reading. What I really mean is that I have always been a reader.
As a “writer in reading” I developed many preconceived ideas about writing, especially about the process of writing, especially about what it means to be a writer that actually writes.
Over the years as I read what I thought to be so many perfect beautiful compositions, I imagined the “gifted” writer “in a room of her own” spilling words from a deep inner well: intact pristine creations sprung from the muse, and I imagined the impossibility of ever, myself, creating anything so lovely, so perfect. This perceived impossibility was especially prevalent when I read poetry, which I tended to avoid.
This brings me to three influential discoveries that (it turns out) have most shaped the writer I am becoming, and by shaped I mean allowed for the possibility of becoming:
1. Many of the words that finally make it into a published manuscript have been edited, sometimes with a heavy hand and sometimes by someone other than the writer.
2. Writers sometimes use prompts and tricks and all sorts of other imaginative machinations as a starting point.
3. Poets/writers are thieves.
I had no idea.
I had no idea that those aforementioned (perfect beautiful) compositions did not necessarily materialize as such, that “real” writers (you know, published writers, wink wink) sometimes (you know, always) had editors. I had no idea that there were entire books dedicated to giving the “real” writer a little bump in the right direction (I knew, of course, these books existed but not that “real” writers actually used them). I had no idea that poets and writers borrowed, mimicked, retold, cut- up, rearranged and flat-out stole anything and everything that crossed their path.
I cannot downplay the importance of the realization of these three little discoveries. They served to disintegrate the illusion of “the gifted writer sitting in a room of her own with her great words spilling forth.” They disintegrated the impossibility of becoming a great writer or, at the very least, a writing writer.
I believe the universe is made up of stories and that process is primarily allowing these stories (whatever form they manifest) to enter consciousness via private or public landscape. I trust the work to direct itself towards optimum rhetorical engagement for transmission. In this manner, I don’t begin with my eye on exposure so much as with intent to expose as pressure builds (percolates), until I have no choice but to allow (swoon), and let the words come (spill) in exactly the same manner as I am doing now, trusting that they are coming around to a point, trusting they have something to say when they spill.
And I do, it turns out, have a deep inner well, which I access. What I initially missed; however, was that this inner well is connected to a larger well outside of me and the pathway between the in and out has many points of entry. That sometimes it is entered through breath, dream, structure (a list, a sonnet, a long sentence, a painting, a storm, an archetypal shadow), that sometimes it is inspired or remembered or imagined or conjured or cut up or rearranged or translated or borrowed or expelled, and that sometimes it is edited by someone other than the writer.
This is why I am drawn specifically to intersections: between poet and poem, between prose and poetry, between right brain and left, between accepted and rejected, word and flesh, thinking and knowing, especially between thinking and knowing. Between the nature of the mind and the nature of reality exposed in the points where a tributary merges into or a branch stretches out of; where archetypes splinter or coalesce. I imagine what happens in the in-between space that connects roots to wings, which are not really separate at all. In this way I explore the intersection between externally imposed societal limitations and ancestral archetypes.
These are the contradictory spaces where everything happens. Intersection as threshold where light may enter. I notice the happenings without aggression, suspended by curiosity, and with total appreciation for the collective and divine in an attempt to integrate the elements that compose my body: water, trees, winged apparitions, and the words that name them.
It took unlearning everything I thought I knew about writing to fall in love with writing. To fall in love with the possibility: the intimacy, the immediacy, the relevance, the form and rhythm and language and essence of words and phrases and sentences and breath and blood. The pulse of it. The tooth and nail of it. The salty tear of it. The blushing cheek of it. And especially, the co-creative nature of it. The perfect union of reader and writer, as writing integrates the giver and receiver while paradoxically reflecting the unknown.
And it took unlearning everything I know about writing to fall in love with the gesture inherent in branches and tributaries, in the space around and the gaps, and between the roots and the wings, especially the wings. I hope in this way, form finds its most innocent page.
From: Ginger Teppner’s “Tributaries and Branches” (a thesis submitted to the Jack Kerouac School, Naropa University in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing 2013)