Thanks to the open mic I’ve been attending for the past eight months, I’ve been trying to write more poetry than usual lately. Friends have complimented many of my pieces, and I’m grateful, but you know the old saying, that you’re your own worst critic. To that end, I’ve decided to offer some commentary for my latest poem, not necessarily to “expose its secrets” or overindulge myself in its meaning, but to understand the economy of words and images. Chronicling my mentality here might help with future writing endeavors, and maybe help you understand the motivation of the piece. In other words, I'm analyzing my own work here, and I hope it doesn't sound as pompous as it seems.
The poem is posted here, so you’ll have to crossover to read it, and for the rest of this post to make sense!
The poem and its first four lines were inspired by an event last Friday night. At work, we hosted a Valentine’s Day event that allowed parents to leave their kids at our program until 10 p.m. For hours, one of the kids bugged me to let him take the trash to the dumpster, but since it was a long walk in the dark, rainy night, I repeatedly told him to wait until I could go, too. Finally, we made the trek, and on the way back to our facility, he looked over his shoulder and said, “Thank you for letting me help!” The innocence of that moment, coupled with the tangibility of his breath in the cold air, seemed poem-worthy to me.
Further, I’ve long sought to personify the inner child as a character in a poem and its ongoing conviction to keep things simple and fun in life. This kid’s energy, made visible in this huffing and puffing that trash can around, seemed like a good example for that. While this poem doesn’t take the direction I had envisioned for my Inner Child Treatise, I’m pleased with the result.
The ongoing imagery is twofold, as I attribute the topic’s body to different obstacles in life. First, from the breath to the arms and legs, this progression travels from the inner to the outer, from a mentality to action. Second, the symbolic obstacles are an allegory, too, for travelling through life. The smelling salts infer awareness, and the canoe denotes finding a place. The fire envisions setting up camp or shelter, and the garden insists on self-reliance or sustenance. (Interlude: The words “hole” and “whole” are awesome, because as homonyms they can either mean an absence or completeness at the same time. If I read this piece out loud, how would you hear it?) Running uphill and feeling an embrace aren’t another leg in the journey (pardon the pun), but an acceptance of one’s accomplishment. Standing atop the hill, the first person is saying, “Look at what I’ve done,” a real king-of-the-mountain kind of thing. Also, I often use hugging to symbolize the orbital sky, for future reference . . .!
The last line is the twist. “I knew you had it in you.” While the poem boasts codependence, the theme is actually independence, that the drive from within can be manifested into results. This is the boundless energy and imagination of the inner child in an adult world of challenge and hardship, and when that little student becomes the teacher. Hence, the title: “I Want To --.” Poets love their titles, and when I read this at the open mic, I introduced it as untitled, but now I think the repetition of those words warrants the headline. The first person doesn’t want to live vicariously through anybody’s strength but his own and is seeking a way to show it.
I recently read that no poem is ever finished, just abandoned. I agree with the sentiment, as I’m often mulling over pieces I’ve essentially completed. I always wonder if another word would sound better here, or if I really need that line there. I wonder if the point really gets across, or if I just strung together a bunch of clever little thoughts. Sometimes, like a child, you just have to play with the toys you have. Sometimes, you just have to trust that everything will be okay.