You know when you visit an art museum and you see an art student sitting down with her own easel and paintbrush, copying the brushstrokes of Degas or van Gogh or Michelangelo? Mimicking the masters. Imitating the greats. Practicing on others’ paintings before she finds her own voice, so to speak.
In January, my professor recommended that we journalists do this too. Take a great piece of narrative nonfiction. Copy it straight out of the book, magazine, newspaper. Pay attention to diction, syntax, how the writers connect words and use imagery.
When I have writer’s block, as I did last night and, well, still have today; when I’ve got the ideas but the language gets stuck in some cortex of my brain, that’s when I mimic my masters.
Except I copy poetry. Not journalism. Can’t escape my B.A.
It isn’t to be pretentious — I have a genuine, nerdy love for poetry. Some poems I read over and over again, and I cry the good kind of tears, the kind of tears that remind me that I am human and so were Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman and John Keats and e.e. cummings, and feeling defeated or paralyzed by emotions is so normal, so, so normal. Even on the shit days, you exist on this earth, a part of a large and beautiful ecosystem. It’s the type of crying that comforts.
Plus, writers of any sort (journalists included) can learn a whole lot from poets. Relying on their senses. Concise diction. Playing with language. It’s a comfort, sure. But it’s also inspiration.
Since it’s World Poetry Day, I thought I’d share a few poems that I’ve copied down to try and heal my writer’s block. I only took my Derek Walcott and Anne Sexton collections off of my bookshelf, so the poems come from those writers.
Here you are. Have a good cry.
Love after Love (Derek Walcott)
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bead. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Endings (Walcott again)
Things do not explode,
they fail, the fade,
as sunlight fades from the flesh,
as the foam drains quick in the sand,
even love’s lighting flash
has no thunderous end,
it dies with the sound
of flowers fading like the flesh
from sweating pumice stone,
everything shapes this
till we are left
with the silence that surrounds Beethoven’s head.
Anne Sexton’s re-writing of Cinderella (but just the end, as it’s very long)
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.