Katelyn M. Hubbs
“You’re going to be writing your own poems in this class. They’re due on Wednesday. On Friday, after all of you have had a chance to review them, they will be workshopped in class. The critiqued poems are due at the beginning of next class,” my professor for poetry explained on the first Friday of the semester.
“Well, fuck. Just what I want,” I thought while he was explaining the handout. “A bunch of people I don’t know judging the shit out of whatever I write. That sounds just peachy.”
I read through the writing prompts that we could choose from for our first poem. Family Secrets Poem, List Poem, Childhood Memory Poem, Rewrite. Ideas began to fill up in my head instantly, even though I hated the idea of presenting any of my work. Usually, I only wrote poetry when I needed to express what was was happening in my life, but this course would make me write before my emotions pented up. This course could be an outlet. Within three days, I had at least six poems that I was contemplating turning in, but I narrowed it down to two. One was extremely personal and left me vulnerable to the class. The other was okay–a bit cliché–but it didn’t leave me naked-in-front-of-complete-strangers-vulnerable. I messaged my friend the two poems. He loved the vulnerable one.
“My problem is presenting it,” I messaged him, leaning towards the other poem. “It’s the first poem and it’s pretty heavy-handed.”
“Fuck man, paint your scars on the side of a building. You’re a ‘heavy’ person. Let it through,” he messaged back. I don’t hide my past from my friends; he knows me and my demons.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking, you know?”
I knew before I messaged him which poem was the better of the two, but I also knew my anxiety towards presenting.
We didn’t talk long because he had work in the morning, but it didn’t take long for me to make up my mind either. I had to be vulnerable, be real. At least for myself.
“If these people want to judge me, fine,” is all I thought as I hit submit on the discussion board.
I submitted my first poem on Wednesday. I bared myself in front of my class, writing about a family secret. I went to class on Friday, arranged the seats into a circle, sat next to the window, and bit my cheek and tongue while people rattled out compliments that made me uncomfortable and critiques that made sense. People liked my poem, people related to my poem. I never thought, or at least did not expect, either of those would happen. I was so happy that my words could fit into another’s life. I wrote personal poems, poems that let strangers know the real me. The “me” I chose to hide from most people.
The most personal piece I wrote was about someone I see as a second father having a stroke. I wanted to write a poem about him and that situation since the class began. Before class, I practiced what to say so many times, days in advance. I cried alone in my room, trying to explain to an imaginary classroom why this man meant so much to me. Reading that piece in front of the class led me to tears. I bounced my leg rapidly, dug my fingernails into my palms, and bit down hard on my cheeks. I didn’t want to cry in front of these people, but I did. I couldn’t explain the piece at the end; I could barely say thank you to everyone for their input. The next day I felt bumps on either side of my cheek and realized only then I had drawn blood the day before in an unsuccessful attempt to hide my feelings.
Throughout the whole class, I got many compliments. Someone wrote on one of my poems, “If you wrote a book, I would buy it,” while someone else said I helped them open up in their writing. With every passing poem, I felt more and more comfortable sharing while less and less anxious about presenting these pieces in front of people. I began to have more confidence in my writing each week that I allowed myself to be vulnerable through my writing and presentation. It would have been easy to write a lame poem about the sky or the changing of seasons every week to shield myself from exposure, but I didn’t. I was honest with the class. I was honest with myself.
“Remember, you can still send a poem to Kayleigh, to submit to the Greenspring Review for extra credit,” Chandler briefly reminded the class a few weeks before finals. Kayleigh was a person in our class and the editor of the Greenspring Review.
“Shit, I forgot about that. I’m running out of time,” I thought while contemplating which poem to submit. I picked a poem called “Shatters” which I had already revised for my portfolio, emailed Kayleigh, and thanked her.
After getting so much positive feedback, I started to write a lot more, even challenging myself to write a poem a day in April. I wrote a lot, but never completed the challenge. Going to New York for a weekend and having finals approaching didn’t give me enough time to meet the challenge. The creativity just left me.
During the summer, I wrote a little more, but not much. I became driven by something else, a book. My book. My friend’s comment about how he would buy a book I wrote made me so happy; it made me want to write. It made me want others to relate to my words. I had about sixty complete poems on my computer alone. I tried to figure out what order I would want them in, but then school started again. I had to put my extracurricular writing on hold for my extremely busy semester. I hadn’t written in at least a month. I forgot about poetry because of school work. That was until I woke up from a short nap on my brother’s bed as he and Miguel were playing the day-old released NES and sleepily opened an email.
“Hello Katelyn, I work for communications on behalf of the book publishing company Z Publishing House. Our editors recently read your poem, ‘Shatters,’ in your university’s literary magazine and were very impressed. We’d like to feature one or more of your unpublished poems in our upcoming publication, which will be a compilation of the best independent poetry (in our opinion) throughout the state of Maryland. Are you interested in learning more?”
I instantly shot up and began screaming at Miguel, pointing at my phone. He laughed at me and said congratulations. I smiled at him. I know he hates poetry, but he has always supported mine. I quickly ran next door to my dad and told him.
“Are they going to pay you?” my dad asked. I rolled my eyes. I just wanted my name out there, I wanted to be published, I wanted to write a book. I didn’t care about possible money from people that found me, that were helping me. Everyone helped me get to this moment.