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.