Writing is what I live by; it’s the reason why I’m in grad school getting an MFA. Still, with the stress of classroom assignments, workshops, and combined with any other outside activities, such as my full-time job (which has nothing to do with writing), it’s easy to get discouraged. Sometimes exhaustion can lead your head to ask certain questions like, Am I a good writer? Is everything I’m doing here even worth it? What is the purpose of life? Do I even exist? As irrational as these questions appear, they still pop-up in my mind from time-to-time, and I often find myself contemplating them for a short amount of time, even though I shouldn’t.
That is why I have a self-compiled list of quotes from writers that I’ve either admired, or have influenced me somehow, to shake my mind out of the murky daze of exhaustion. I will share three of them below.
1. “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ―William Faulkner
This quote is probably overused, but it is essential to live for the inevitable workshops and critiques of your work (unless you happen to be an extraordinary writer who writes everything perfectly on the first attempt). Maybe this quote applies more to poets than to other genres, because this Faulkner quote rings extremely true to me. I cannot count how many times I’ve had to omit stanzas that I personally felt were great. It can sometimes be soul-crushing when this occurs.
Yet it’s something that I’ve had to learn how to deal with. While a stanza in and of itself is sometimes great, it sometimes doesn’t fit the context of the poem it was written in. While killing this “darling” of a stanza can be painful, I’ve began to compile a section of “darlings” that I’ve murdered with the hope that they can be rebirthed at some point again, whether it’s in the next poem, the one written 10 years from now, or the one that never sees a glimpse of sunshine. William Carlos Williams’ poem “Spring and All” gives me hope that my “darlings” may be resurrected one day.
The next quote comes from a Chicago poet whose work I always find myself coming back for either reference or inspiration since the beginning of my MFA.
2. “I really enjoy trying to stretch, sometimes toward absurdity.” — José Olivarez
I feel that this a point that I am reaching in my poetry, especially in my craft seminar where my topic for the semester centers around immigration from the southern border. I recently took a risk in one of my workshopped poems entitled “Immigration Interview with Tucker Carlson.” For the class, the title seemed a bit absurd, and suddenly, that became the expectation for the poem: a viewpoint of absurdity. The poem worked better than what I anticipated, with a few comical elements that I wasn’t even aware of. Even when I feel that my writing is going of the rails, especially in comparisons to other writings that I am working on simultaneously, it does not necessarily mean that this piece is not working. In the poetry world, absurdity can be good.
The last quote is one that every poet knows to be true.
3. “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” — Robert Frost
Reading and writing poetry is a compulsion and something that poets are known to regurgitate inherently from their system. Poetry is done for the love of the form, not for the perks that may come after it (though being paid to write poetry would sure be nice). Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, especially on days were one doesn’t feel a desire to write (which is totally OK), but it’s good to have something that brings you back into it and remind you why you are writing.