[Written by Sidra Rashid]
[Image Credit: Pixabay//Free-Photos/9108 Images]
I was a junior in high school when I went on the mission for the perfect notebook. As a lover of stationary, this one had to be different than the hoards of dust-covered ruled journals that lined my shelves. I needed one with thick, sturdy pages, unlined, to fill up with my doodles and musings, for I had decided I want to add poetry to my short list of creative endeavours. Lined pages were far too restrictive, I needed a fresh start.
Going back and reading those poems now—one an open letter to Belle from Beauty and the Beast, another about the overwhelming stress of standardized testing leading up to college applications—leads to nothing but painful winces. I can guarantee those poems will never again see the light of day.
While they did not lead to book-bound masterpieces, what they did give me was practice, motivation, and an outlet. Here are a few ways I’ve found this specific outlet has given me (and, I believe, fellow writers) a reason to continue writing, nearly five years later.
I was never one to keep up a diary for more than a week or two at a time, I didn’t have a dream journal, I could never come up with a compelling enough plot to force my sixteen-year-old self to write more than a thousand words.
This particular poetry notebook, however, flowed with ink and was chalked up with graphite. I would sit in my bean bag chair in the corner of my childhood bedroom with the Narnia movie scores playing, and I would write.
For only ten minutes. Or an hour. Or any amount of time in between that; this was the key that unlocked poetry as my chosen medium. No need for outlines and fleshed out characters, no demand for more than messy stream of consciousness scribbles. Instant gratification, nearly every time.
The product depended on me. Sometimes, a simple haiku was enough to get my message across. Others, I wrote an epic ballad. Most of the time, I didn’t follow any rules at all, just jotted down whatever my brain whisked up.
The rise in popularity of free verse in the past few years has made it simple for anyone to dip their toes into poetry. There is no rhyme scheme, no line counts, no required word repetition. Simple word vomit is enough to start with (and editing becomes a close friend soon after).
So I wrote. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. Being an introvert, I didn’t think I’d ever share my work. With the encouragement of a friend, I began going to an open mic at my home campus of UCLA. I simply sat in the audience, soaking up the pretty words and inspiration. And then, my friends started coming along and I discovered many of them wrote in their free time, too.
My roommate and I made a pact. If she read a poem, I would read a poem, and if I did, she would. So we held each other accountable, and our agreement forced me out of my seat, in front of a room of dozens of people, reading my own words aloud for the first time. And I did it again and again until almost every week, I was sharing a new poem, getting over the stage fright and self-consciousness.
And that is where I met some of the kindest, most supportive, and uplifting peers I have yet to come across in my three years of higher education. In my experience, open mics hosted by fellow university students across the globe welcome new voices with open arms, and point out the gold woven into each person’s words. Finding people to make you excited to write is not necessary, but they make the experience all the sweeter.
Not only has the accessibility to a community in person created a more open environment, but social media has democratized poetry. No longer is there an image of stuffy old white men publishing works on unrequited love. When I hear “poet,” I first think women of colour, LGBTQIA+ individuals; people with diverse experiences and backgrounds writing about what they know.
Poets, especially online, have become some of the most intersectional and kind communities I have seen. Minority writers are able to take up space in the art world, where before they would not even be given a seat at the table. With accounts meant for artists to share their work, like @arthoecollective, or the ease of simply creating a new account, as @noor_unnahar has done, everybody that has a smartphone or a laptop (or even a library card) has a platform to share their work.
Whether touting thousands of followers or a dozen, nobody is barred. Even ten years ago, this democratization of the medium was not achievable; notoriety mainly came through publication, and even then, poets were not in the mainstream consciousness of any recent generation, let alone those born after 1990. I couldn’t imagine a poetry book on the bestseller lists even less than a decade ago.
But the tides are turning.
To be perfectly candid, I do still struggle sometimes to call myself a poet. I don’t consider myself as having enough talent or experience to hold the title. Yeah sure, I’ve posted a poem or two on my Instagram account, I’ve read my poems to a small audience. But I’ve never published a book, I haven’t won first place at a national competition. But the attitude surrounding the writing form has been changing—both in my personal confidence and in wider societal contexts.
I remind myself that I am a poet for myself, before I am for anybody else. My words are written in a way only I could convey, they carve out experiences only I have had, and give insight into a brain only I will ever possess.
And, most importantly, I love to do it.
I am beginning to teach myself; a level of accomplishment no longer makes one a proper writer. A tenderness towards the art and a desire to write—that is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. That’s what makes a poet.