Ask anyone that knows me: left to my own devices, I tend to degenerate into a shadow of a person. Just this past weekend my roommate went on a trip to Memphis, and while she was gone I let the dirty clothes, makeup, books, and empty coffee cups and wine glasses pile up on the floor like so many testimonies to my complete apathy about the state of my living space. When she got home, I was sitting in the living room. I heard her walk into our room, drop her bags and scream unceremoniously “EMILY!!!!” “I’m SORRY!” I screamed back. “You weren’t here to guilt me into cleaning!!”
This is a microcosm of my life. And it’s certainly indicative of the way I sometimes do my art.
I wash my clothes when I run out of underwear and passably clean work shirts and there is literally nothing else to put on without pilfering from one of my housemates. I sometimes only write a poem when to not write it means that I run the risk of imploding from the sheer volume of feelings like a human water balloon. This works, sometimes, but it’s not ideal.
I do my best cleaning—and my best writing—when there are other people there to spur me on, encourage me, challenge me, sharpen me, and yes, sometimes even guilt me into starting in the first place. That’s why the best thing that ever happened to my poetry was during my freshman year of college. By some happy accident of fate or chance I happened to connect with a small, motley crew of other poets on campus, and we began meeting every week to share our poetry.
So there we were, a missionary kid from Mexico, a rapper from Long Beach, a guy who used to be homeless, a security guard who wrote poems about bumblebees and insane asylums, a lanky theology major who wore cardigans with elbow patches almost exclusively, and myself: The Poetry Club. And we drafted exactly one rule:
“#1: You must bring a new poem to share every week.”
Later on, we added a second out of necessity:
“#2: You must not qualify any poem you share with the words, ‘This isn’t really that good, but…’ If it is good, then you’re just being falsely humble. If it’s actually not good, we will not hesitate to tell you.”
And we didn’t. The thing I loved about that group is that all of us were good poets and respected the others’ work, but no one had any qualms about saying with the frankness of one who has heard and understood the iterations of your deepest fears and loves, “Meh. You can do better.”
That year was magical. We played games, came up with weekly prompts, and sometimes just said “screw it” and listened to old Kirk Franklin for two hours instead. I wrote some of the best poetry I’ve ever written, and moreover, changed forever as an artist.
But like every living thing, Poetry Club had a finite life span. Some of us graduated that year. Some of us are doing poetry for a living now, and some of us work in restaurants and preschools. Some of us packed our bags and moved to Europe to woo a girl. Some of us ended up dating each other, falling in and out of love and crash landing like the opening scene of Lost. Some of us ended up living together: the missionary kid from Mexico is one and the same as the aforementioned roommate who guilts me into cleaning with minimal success. We all moved on, though. Poetry Club, as we knew it, is no more. And that’s probably ok. Everything ends. And something I’m learning about life is that it might be better to end too soon than too late.
But when I’m tracing my genealogy as a poet, I will always look back to Poetry Club with fond memories and a heart that is more grateful than I could ever possibly express.
To Poetry Club: Thanks for the art-sharpening, and even more for the soul-sharpening. I love you.