How Poetry Writing is Like Surfing on a Short board: the strangeness of poetry

The Spring semester is over. I’ve decided not to teach a class or work in a writing center or wait tables. I’ve decided to relish in my residency at the Deering Estate at Cutler. For the first time in my life, I feel I can afford to drop everything but writing (and wedding planning…a whole other story) for this entire summer. It’s not yet a relief. It’s actually a somewhat awkward process for the mind. I have to a) give myself permission not to take in any income for a few months b) validate my writing as valuable c) get my a$$ out of bed or away from the lounge chairs at the pool, away from tinkering and writing on my pinkcurlers.com blog (I mean, it is still writing, I tell myself), even away from my paint brushes or the beach or away from the the sofa placed perfectly in front of Netflix (if I binge watch documentaries then it doesn’t count, right?) d) and most strangely, I have to reconnect with my poetic mind. There’s enough distractions to make me (and probably you too) wonder why I should write poetry at all.

I’ve just finally stepped out of a year long denial (perhaps another productive and self-imposed consequence of having a writing residency); all last year I neglected and rejected my thesis/poetry book manuscript. I replaced it with an exhausting obsession (and an achievement!) with a full time position as well as with pouring of all my writing energy into a novel. The manuscript became not unlike an enemy, a daunting task because it requires me to open up the poetry doors of my mind or perception (as poet, Jim Morrison would say).

The past few days I pushed my way through the heavy doors, sorting through these old-ish poems, writing a couple new ones and attempting to find some decent and publishable building for them. I’m really worn out. It’s a mental version of switching from a longboard (surfboard) to a short board after riding a longboard for too many months.

How writing poetry is like surfing

Unlike with surfing, where I routinely force myself to take out a short board (as I get older, the longboard becomes more and more tempting to ride) and paddle out. Riding a short board is a more intense exercise. All of your core muscles are incessantly working to stay on board; you must pop up significantly quicker to stand up on the board when you’re catching a wave. I always joke when I’m in the lineup on my little nugget “Whew! I’m out of shortboard shape!” Others, especially us that are 25 and up, really get a kick out of the comment, as the ripped lean adolescent gromets swerve around us like birds, passing us for every wave, even the crappiest waves just because they can (I remember that endless almost annoying amount of energy that needed to be released somewhere; waves were the best place to do it. When you’re younger you don’t miss any wave. Each wave is an exciting adventure in itself). Another habit I’ve picked up with age, in the activity of surfing, is waiting for “a good one,” rather than fighting to ride each wave coming your way.

surfers waiting

Diving into poetry again, is very much like jumping onto a short board; I feel awkward entering the form. I write, and then when I reread what I’ve just written, it’s so wordy. What feels like thousands of useless words must be trimmed off; metaphors must be more disguised, intense, complex, original. When I’m writing a new poem, I work much slower than I did in grad school where/when I was well-versed and fluent in daring, trippy, edgy tongue. The environment in grad school (for my MFA) facilitates your creativity. Everyone around you is in this creative complex realm of language, imagery and controversy. Basically, I was in very good poetry writing shape, comparable to my fitness level and the surfing community of my early/mid twenties.

Reorganizing and reassessing the old poems as well as churning out new ones, like dropping in on a steep wall of a wave, wobbling on your potato chip surfboard, requires a mindset that embraces danger or failure which is tangled up with faith that the perfect ride or the most powerful poem will come alive. It’s much more difficult to find your way into and then just as difficult, if not more, to get out of the mental state of poetry writing (think of a labyrinth that leads to a labyrinth and then trying to find your way back out of both when you’ve reached the interior or when your day’s work is over).

It takes a lot out of you, this poetry writing, especially when the ultimate goal of publication rests at the end of the heavy rope. Not only is this weird stuff spilling out of you, but also you’re hoping that some other weird poetry junkie with money and power will appreciate your work enough to want to print it over and over again.

I have a feeling this post will be continued. As I’m writing, more ideas on poetry are popping up. Alas, I can’t stay here all day, putting off my poetry manuscript for another few hours. Upcoming, I’d like to vent about/examine the tiresome effect of the outer/societal expectations/perceptions on the poet’s writing process as well as the emotional/perceptual effects of poetry writing on the poet. There is no doubt that the poet (or the writer that is swimming in a poetry project) carries the weight of a poetic lens throughout daily life, holding it in front of the comprehension of everything.

How surfing is like writing poetry

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