I didn’t grow up in a household where poetry was ever read, discussed, or even acknowledged. When I eventually, at the age of twenty-three, told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, and do it seriously, her first words were; ‘Get your head out of the clouds.’ Although I might appear unduly self-confident, even self-important sometimes, I’m actually not. I do have confidence in myself, and I’m sure of who I am, but when it comes to facing the world I’m all too aware of my shortcomings and awkward little flaws, which make me a bit of a twat. I realised, a couple of years ago, that if you pretend to be more confident than you are, and just assert yourself into life’s little situations and conversations, people will accept you for your flaws, rather than thinking you’re weird for them. Therefore, when it comes to writing, I am absolutely torn. One half of me wants to hold my words to my chest and protect them like a child, but what would be the point in that? You see, the other half of me wants to share them. I don’t want to send them into the void for people to read them so they can be impressed by them and think how wonderfully talented I am, or to receive comments telling me how brilliant my piece of work is. What I want is feedback. A person’s honest opinion means more to me than all the patronising, sycophantic cooing under the sun (not that I ever get any). This week I posted an old poem on my blog. Because my blog is linked to Twitter and Facebook, a friend from my creative writing class read the poem. This lad is an exceptional writer. He’s intelligent, hilarious, sharp-witted, and brilliant. When he’d read this poem, which I feel is juvenile and unsophisticated, as it was written two years ago when I’d only just stopped writing poems called things like; ‘In Lord Harry’s Lair’, he told me it was ‘great’. I made some modest, demure comment in reply, about it being an old poem and not very good, and his reply was ‘Your honesty makes me smile. I enjoyed it, laziness not being a factor.’ These few words meant so much to me, and lit me up for the whole day. To know that somebody, a person I respect, and who knows what they’re talking about, has taken the time to read something I’ve written, and actually enjoyed it, makes me incredibly happy.
My dilemma is; does posting poetry online make me a knob?
As a writer, should I humbly squirrel my words away, and hide them from the world? Do I devalue myself and my work by whoring it over the internet? I want to retain integrity and modesty, and to deserve respect, but I want people to read what I’ve written, so that I can know whether it’s any good. Because, when it boils down to it, I don’t actually know whether it’s good. I have a fear that I’m sending these things into the world, these little pieces of myself, which is what they are, and people are reading them and grimacing with embarrassment for me, at how awful they are. (Please note, if I ever write anything that makes a reader cringe, please tell me, I really would rather know). Of-course, I don’t share everything I write, a lot of it is private or ‘work in progress’, but of the few things I do share, I would like to know how people feel about them, be it good or bad. As I’m not likely to be paid a nice sum of money to print my poems in the Times Literary Supplement any time soon (yes, this is one of my dreams), the best and only way I have of getting feedback on my work from people who love and care about poetry, is to share it on the internet. When my Mother or Grandmother read my work, they’ll tell me it’s very good, and smile at how nice it is (with the exception of one poem (which was actually published in a very well respected literary journal), which my Nan felt was derogatory to the working class), but I want the opinion of other writers, people like the friend from my writing class (who may not be a friend any more if he reads this blog).
What’s your answer, dear Void? Does it make me look desperate and deluded to scrawl my work online? Should I continue sharing it, hoping for honest opinions, or hide it away to maintain integrity? In truth, if work stays bound in a notebook, and I know no-one has ever, or will ever read it, I feel a burning frustration. Anything I write is an expression, and a release of how I feel, and if I shut it away, and bottle it up, I feel as though I’m caging an animal. It’s somehow soothing to know that someone, somewhere, might read a poem and smile. Likewise, if something is terrible, I want to know. I find it impossible to judge my own work. I can read something I’ve written and think it’s the work of a genius, then five minutes later hate myself because it’s actually appalling. It’s helpful for people to make suggestions, and give an opinion that I can trust.
I suppose my fear is that I will devalue what I’m writing. I don’t want to appear like a teenager writing poems about a crush, and posting them for the world to see. Some of the poems I’ve written have been in journals, which means they’re already publicly accessible, but I’m worried that putting them on a blog will cheapen them.
Also, I don’t want to appear as though I think each poem is the best thing ever written, and they’re small gems of ingenious that you should all behold and marvel at, admiring my prowess, then tell me how brilliant I am. The main reason for posting a piece of work, for me, is that I’m unsure. I have a feeling that by making something public, it will appear to the outside world as though I’m saying ‘here it is’ and showing it off proudly. This isn’t the case. Yes, I feel an attachment to my writing, because it’s so personal, and I suppose that in a way I’m proud of it because I know how hard I’ve worked on it, but I’m certainly not posting it because I want to show off, and I think it’s a perfect piece of art to be beheld. In truth, what I’m hoping for is for someone to say ‘Actually, I think it would be better without that line’, or a suggestion to swap two words around, or change the title, or cut a stanza. Because it’s impossible to judge whether one’s own work is good or not, I’m hoping for someone to give me advice.
I’ll stop now, because there is no answer. I just hope no-one thinks I’m a pompous prick.