Friday, April 12, 2013

Off-Hand Comment

I was reading the requirements for a poetry contest the other day (long story, but no, I'm not submitting anything. I don't think I'm ready) and one judge commented that the submissions should "... not be prose all chopped up and called a poem." 

That caught me by surprise. I was embarrassed. Is that what I do? Do I just take sentences, impose random line breaks, and call them poetry? Am I a hack? But, I said to myself, sometimes words just want to come out that way.

I didn't write for a few days.

I also thought a great deal about off-hand comments, and how deeply I have been affected by a few of them. A boy I adored in high school told me once, "You sound like a frog when you sing." I didn't sing again (even in the shower) until I went away to school, and then only in a choir. Even now I have little confidence in my voice, although I've mostly overcome my silence. Instead I joke that I make up in enthusiasm what I lack in quality. I sing because I love to, but that off-hand comment still catches me sometimes.

"How are a carousel and a fat girl similar? They're fun to ride but you wouldn't want your friends to see." I overheard that "joke" long before I qualified as fat. I didn't realize that, of course. Even at my skinniest adult weight -- at the end of high school when I was working out every day and could count my ribs -- I was still a "giant" size 12. Shame came quickly and lodged deep in my soul. I may never completely believe that a man would want to see me in a sexual way, even though I see other women who look like me -- mama belly and all -- and think they are beautiful and sexy and, yes, desirable.

I turned forty a few months ago. Some find that number mortifying. I find it liberating. Along with wrinkly hands and gray hairs I seem to be growing the ability to dismiss nonsense I once took to heart. Step-by-step I am freeing myself of chains I built out of other peoples' words.

Which is why, even if it is just chopped up prose, I wrote a poem yesterday.


  1. Your poetry is lovely. I wish I could write so well. And you are a beautiful person, too. Inside and out...

    I still carry with me a shouted message by a California Barbie having a horrible road-rage kind of day: "I hope you die, you fat moose!" But what I decided to take away from that unfortunate encounter is a newfound respect for the moose. Now it is my signature animal!

  2. WOW! I am in awe of your writing skills, your ability to freely express your feelings and emotions, your insightfulness of how things resonate with you and effect others. I have yet to read your poetry, but I'm certain, it's nothing less than extraordinary!
    This piece brings to mind many 'Off-hand Comments' I have endured through out my 50-years and has opened my eyes to how my comments, regardless of type, will effect others! Yanna, you're a rockin chick!!!

    Deborah, I lov the way you took control of the 'moose' comment, made it something positive, and left Barbie's ignorance on the highway!

  3. I hear your song. It is glorious.

  4. I'm 46. I've had more fun in the last six years than all my Very Super Fun Life before that milestone age. Let it flow, my friend.

    This is not to say I don't still feel the pain of offhand comments. They stick hard and painfully. I'm with you.

    But that poetry advisement? That's one judge beating a very personal horse. It wasn't until I started encountering poems that read more like "chopped-up prose" that I discovered this English major might actually like some poetry. Do your thing. Let the judge live with his/her crabbiness.