Becoming a Poet: Just Messing Around

little kMaya Angelou was the balm to my loveless and desperate teenage heart. She knew what it was like to love and not be loved back. She wrote about black womanhood in a way that inspired me. One of her well-known poems, “Phenomenal Woman,” changed the way I saw myself. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, I’d read Angelou’s autobiographies, so I knew about her struggles with her self-esteem and how she was often put down by others concerning her appearance. At thirteen I wondered: How could person who spent years not speaking grow up to be so powerful? I knew I wanted that. And because her poetry was so accessible, I felt like I could do it, too.
So just like that, my work as a poet truly began. I practiced writing poems the way she did.  Beginning writers would think of this as a form of plagiarism, but it’s actually a way of practice. You have to read to write. You have to know what’s out there, and practice your favorite “brush strokes” until you perfect them, and then make something altogether unique.
By high school I began to have dreams of being a writer. And by dreams, I mean just that. The idea felt lofty and far away. How would I make money? How would I get a book published? I needed a real job. The only full-time writer in my family was a journalist. Maybe I could be a journalist and write poetry on the side. But of course for me, poetry wouldn’t stay in its place. It would refuse to be my side chick, though I didn’t know it at the time.
The poems I wrote by senior year came every day. I wrote so many poems I gave them away. They were silly poems about random things like cheese or pee. Seriously. But they were so satisfying to write and they amused my friends. They were so playful and fun, I didn’t know I was exercising my poetry muscle. I still have a friend from high school who read most of these poems. Every once in a while he posts something silly on my Facebook wall that makes no sense, just to remind me of them.
Poetry was already making a way for me by adding joy to my days, and I began to see writing as the gift it was.

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