Why Poetry?

Recently, I was interviewed about my creative habits and inspiration on the Why Poems? Podcast. If you have not heard about this podcast yet, please check it out. Why Poems, which was created by poet and educator, Cole Bellamy, centers around why poets write poetry. In each new episode, Cole asks featured writers why they are motivated to live a life with poetry. 

I once had a poetry professor who began the semester by saying something along the lines of: "If you can choose to do anything else, do it. Poetry is neither logical or financially smart." As, a bright-eyed new poet, I laughed nervously (along with the rest of the class) and thought "c'mon, poetry makes all the sense in the world!" Years, later I've taken his words to heart. Why poetry? Why writing for that matter? As a writer, I've always juggled multiple jobs, been underpaid, and all too often written for free. There are truly better financial ways to make a living but I've always been drawn to writing, and poetry in particular, because they are a central part of my understanding of the world. 

So, why poetry? Very plainly and honestly, because it is everything to me and I can't imagine a life without it. Cole's interview reminded me of how my writing habit got started at a very early age. When I was nine or ten, I'd wake up at night to jot a few things down. An image that popped into my head, a word, a dream, whatever it was, I remember waking up with the extreme urgency to write something down. I didn't have a pen or notebook one night so, in my half-awake state, I grabbed a sharpie that was on my nightstand and started writing directly on the nightstand. To my surprise and relief, my parents never got upset by this, instead, they allowed me to fill that nightstand up with words and ideas and they bought me stacks of composition notebooks. To this day, my mom knows that my favorite gift to receive is always (and will forever be) a journal. 

Writing on that nightstand is to this day, one of my most visceral childhood memories. I am forever grateful to my parents for supporting my urge to write. I do not know where this impetus came from and there may never be a rhyme or reason to why I've chosen to write poetry but I do know that it's been one of my oldest and most consistent companions. 

I had so much fun speaking with Cole about creativity and inspiration. Listen to my interview on the Why Poems? Podcast here

An artist's guide to saying "no"

I am, by nature, an overachiever. If a friend needs a hand, I am instantly there to help. If I can take an extra course, I do. If I can juggle more jobs, than I have waking hours, I find a way to manage. If I get called to volunteer or sub a class for someone, I try my best to be there. Although living like this can get exhausting, I am happy to help others and to learn from new opportunities. I give my time when I can, and at times, when I can’t.

But, living this way can get exhausting. Literally there have been days when (even when my plate it completely full) I find myself wanting to find more hours in the day. But the truth is, there is a finite amount of hours in the day. Whether I like it or not, that's that.

Creativity takes times. Writing, in particular, takes a lot of time and, I'm ashamed to say it but, when I get incredibly busy, it's the first thing to fall into the background. How can this be? My writing practice is one of the most important things in my writing. When I'm not writing (or reading), I am thinking about writing. When I go too long without it, my body literally feels imbalanced and unwell. Again, how is writing the first thing to fall off my list when I'm too busy because I've said yes to one too many things? There is something wrong with this equation. 

I've spoken with a few of my writer friends about this conundrum and many of them find themselves in the same boat. 

I come from a family of hard working new Americans and, to be frank, busyness has always been something to take pride in.  Yet, as I've recently learned, saying “yes” to too much can cause people to lack clarity and focus on actual goals.

Lately, I have found myself wanting to say “no” more often. I’ve come to learn that saying “yes” may not always be the best solution. For me, saying “no” is a contributing factor to leading a creative, healthy, productive and happy life.  If we constantly say “yes” we will go off to do a thousand unfinished things and never completely, and successfully, finish one. The key comes in the balancing of “yes” and “no.”

So, yes, I'm on a path of adding "no" to my everyday vocabulary. And you might be too. This of course is easier said than done, so here are a few helpful tips and reminders that I'd like to share with you: 

 

How to balance “yes” and “no”

1. First know that it is 100% okay to say “no.” This means you can say “no” and not feel sorry about it.

2. It’s not rude to say “no,” it’s necessary.

3. “No” is the other side of “yes.” It is at times the more thoughtful and genuine response to a question.

4. Next time you are asked to give of yourself, take a moment to consider your response.

5. Before reluctantly saying “yes,” or thoughtlessly saying “no,” take a moment to think about how your decision will affect your life, attitude and being. Are you saying “yes” to please someone and harm yourself? If so, reconsider, and kindly say “no.”

6. Say “yes” all the time and you’ll become stressed, over exhausted and unable to finish things that matter to you.

7. If you always say “no,” you will close yourself off and not feel the fulfillment of reaching out to others.

8. It is the fine balance of both “yes” and “no” that will help you find the best version of yourself. You need both in your life in order to find your happiness, in order to reach your artistic goals. 

On Revision & the Writing Process

A few weeks ago, I had the fortune of seeing "NEW // IN PROCESS," a collaborative show that featured music by the Baker-Bargainer Duo (Elizabeth Baker and Erich Bargainer) and new dance pieces by Helen Hansen French and Kellie Harmon. From wii controller-induced music and dance collaborations to a symphony of vibrators inside of a piano, the evening was thoroughly entertaining, if not thrilling. But what made the evening truly special, was the fact that the program was presented as a time for new works. 

New works/works in progress, we've all been there. There is a joy to work that is being worked on, that is being untangled as it's taking form. Although, granted, this joy may seem more like excruciating pain as you’re working through the piece. Yet, this is a safe place of working, processing and of moving towards. In writing, this is the revision process. This is the messiness (and the fun) of creating art. 

As a writer and educator, I constantly repeat the phrase: writing is a process.

Draft one is usually garbage. And, I’m okay with that because often out of that heap of trash, I salvage a line or two, or an image and I work from there. Then, I pare down as much as possible and listen to the prosody of the lines. What does this poem want? I often ask (sometimes aloud at coffee shops). Once something is written it belongs less and less to me and it begins to take on a life of its own. From draft one on, it’s my job to help the poem say and do what it needs to say and do. 

Revision is the invisible and enormous bottom of the iceberg. Sometimes, I hit my stride at about draft four. Yet, the poem I’m working on is still a hatchling. It’s still in process and it will have a long, long way to go before it’s done. I accept this and I end up living with the poem through its growing pains for a while.

When I think of new pieces of writing, I think of the scene of Bambi where Bambi discovers snow and has to learn to walk on ice.

This is often what the writing process looks like:

 

 

As a writer, it’s my job to help that knob-legged baby poem get across that ice. How? Through trial and error, through working, re-working and relishing in the unfinished stage of being “in process.”

I am thankful for the practice that goes into making art and I’m also grateful to live in a community that supports works in progress. As a writer, I’ve been fortunate to find trusted readers who are candid with their feedback. I also learn a lot about trusting the messy process of writing in Keep St.Pete Lit’s LIT SPACE classes.

Perhaps most importantly, "NEW // IN PROCESS" reminded me of the play and risk that goes into making art. The beauty of revision, in my experience anyway, is that more than anything it enables me to experiment and take risks. For, isn't risk-taking one of the most important parts of the creative process? 

 

Gloria Muñoz

Gloria Muñoz is the author of the chapbook Your Biome Has Found You (Finishing Line Press, 2016). As a Colombian/American writer, she is interested in exploring identity, migration, environmental degradation and race. Her writing has appeared in print and online publications including Best New Poets, Acentos Review, Poems2Go, Sarah Lawrence Review, Forage Poetry, Brooklyn Review, Salt Creek Journal, and Entropy. Her writing has also been honored by the Estelle J. Zbar Poetry Prize, the Bettye Newman Poetry Award, the New York Summer Writer’s Institute Fellowship, the USF Humanities Institute Poetry Award, and the Think Small to Think Big Artist Grant. Gloria holds degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and the University of South Florida. She teaches creative writing at Eckerd College and for Keep St. Pete Lit. Gloria is also a co-founder of Pitch Her Productions, an organization dedicated to women in the arts.