I wrote my first song when I was 11 and not long afterwards, my first poem. I can’t recall the name or subject of the poem but I’m sure it was completely narcissistic and terrible. But, then as now, I enjoyed the process of writing poetry – choosing words to paint a scene or mood. It’s like creating a word mosaic. So I kept at it. I was first published in my high school newspaper when I was 15. I remember the gleeful, and yet exposed, feeling I had opening up the pages and seeing those 3 poems there in print. I was a minor celebrity in Ocean View High School’s corridors, at least among those who bothered to glance at the paper. In other words, I became my English teacher’s pet.
Jump ahead to age 24 me, when I started publishing Burnt Toast (which I talk about in more detail in this previous post: https://angellacanfora.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/iphonus-interruptus/). Burnt Toast was my poetry zine serving the local community of Huntington Beach, CA. In BT, I published not only my own poems but those of other emerging poets. It was an exciting and fulfilling year and a half made possible by the lack of an internet.
While I continued penning the odd poem here and there through my 20s, it largely took a back seat to songwriting in the late 90s/early 2000s. My musical life at that time was very active, chock full of gigs and recording sessions. Poetry writing became a special occasion desert, a now and again savory crème brûlée as opposed to my regular, meatier musical entrees.
2007, I was married, living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d heard about a yearly writing competition sponsored by Writer’s Digest and so, for kicks, decided to enter a batch of song lyrics in the poetry category. I tidied them up first, reorganized them, fluffed them up then tamped them down again to read more like poems and less like dumb rock songs. A few months later, I received a package in the mail. Five certificates – suitable for framing! – with the titles of 5 of my song/poems and the words “honorable mention” beneath them. Oh, how I laughed…
Divorce a few years later freed up more of my time, so I was able to devote more of it to writing poetry. Though I was also still engaged in the making of music, the playing of the odd gig along with making/exhibiting/selling mosaic art AND a newfound love of landscape photography (whoa, slow down there, Angel! Do you got something to prove? Yeah. Whaddya got?)
And here we are now. 2015. So far this year, I’ve got 2 poems slated for publication in literary magazines. Last year, my poem “Borrego Quiet” placed 5th in the annual Grey Sparrow Press writing contest and was subsequently published in Snow Jewel journal. My poem “Venice Beach Array” was published in Poetry Quarterly last spring. And, psst… you want in on a little secret? Both of them started life as songs! In fact, here’s the song version of “Borrego Quiet”-
Writing poetry is like a game to me – can I say a lot with a minimum of words? Can I move someone in a few short stanzas? I feel like I’m getting away with something, like I’ve entered the poetry world through the back door, by way of music. I enjoy seeing if I can get a particular poem published in a particular journal, get the editors to fall in love with it. And I have nothing riding on it! This isn’t my career, I can have fun! If a poem gets rejected a few times, I can tweak it and submit again. Why not?
While most poets have gone though rigorous MFA programs, I’ve studied the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, etc. I do read and love actual poetry. My favorite poets tend to be those who have a lightness to their touch… a twinkle, a sparkle. I read everyone from Emily Dickinson to Shel Silverstein, to Elizabeth Bishop to Rimbaud to Corso to Dorothy Parker to David Gascoyne to obscure, contemporary poets like myself. I’ll admit there’s a lot of poetry I haven’t been exposed to, especially the classical stuff. But it’s hard to find time when you’re also engaged in a dozen other artistic pursuits and activities and working by day, to boot. But this just gives me something to look forward to exploring.
I tend to steer clear of the formal, the pretentious, the erotic, the horror, the political, the experimental. When I’m at the point where I’m researching magazines to shop a poem around and come across one that says, in regard to what they’re looking for – and this is an actual quote from an actual lit mag’s requirements – “…the aesthetic shrapnel is a common attitude of visceral humanism. We want to provide a megaphone to howling assertions of human subjectivity,” I have to cover my mouth and suppress a little sick before quickly clicking off the page.
Above all, though, I just don’t want to be bored! And I am terrified of writing boring poetry! Or of writing boring anything! Or being bored! Am I boring you now? Oh God, say it ain’t so!!
Best Poem I ever wrote…
To the Man Who Daily Stops to Let his Small Dog Poop in the Rock Bed Beside My Patio…