Advice to young poets


The advice I got when I was a young poet came from Keats and Dickinson, Thoreau and Hugo. I languished in my angst more often than not. I did not consider the words I put down as a craft or art but rather a way to give voice to the deep sad I felt but didn’t understand. And in fact, I had no idea why I would need to give voice to the deep sad. I just wrote and pondered and swam in the waters of dark thinking because it came naturally.

The advice I gleaned from poetry was hidden in verses, like code between line breaks-

I ’ve seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;

And then I saw the dying eye Dickinson described too, in my room, in my cloudy vision and often I did not know what to do with it.

And I’d dive head first into a verse, like this of Thoreau then in the next moment-

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.

Or paddle around in Poe until I could not breathe without sobbing-

“I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–“

Looking back on it now, I realize I was too short-sighted as a young poet to know how deep the rabbit hole of poetry really goes. I did not have the Internet to tell me there were other words, a great “And also there is this…” batch of words, encouraging words, to lift me out of the dark thoughts my adolescent poet brain offered up.

Growing up is hard and painful and poetry is good balm. It’s too bad so many young people don’t realize that for the most part they’re all young poets waiting to be fed strong words that can build them up and get them through it. Regardless of creative leanings, economical level or ethnic background all young people have a young poet inside, whispering and waiting. I really believe this.

And so, today, I thought about what advice I’d give to the young poet and this is what came to me for what it’s worth-

Don’t be afraid of your dark thoughts but don’t give them absolute power either.
Put those dark thoughts in a well-lit room close by
and listen to them from a place of authority and calm.
When they are hungry, give your dark thoughts food grown in clean soil
and water from the clearest streams
because dark thoughts are really just ideas that are afraid.
Treat your dark thoughts like children who need care to become healthy.
Guide them into your art and let the art speak those fears
And when your thoughts are ill, let your art be the medicine and the hospital bed.
You are the doctor and the nurse and the midwife and the priest to them.
Let your art heal those dark thoughts so that they can become
what they are meant to be in the wholeness of you
as an artist
and a friend
and a human
living and breathing and growing all the time.
Don’t be afraid of dark thoughts.


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