Spit Despite the Silence

Ever shared a poem with someone and, despite their niceties, knew they weren’t really feeling it?

IF you allow it, it can be the worst feeling in the world. It will make you question your art and your ability.

Am I a bad poet? Am I a depressing poet? Does my poetry make people feel bad?

Forget every bit of that; it’s not you. I’ve learned that not all of our intentions toward poetry are honest or honorable. Often, people associate a specific feeling with what they think “good” poetry is. There is no such thing.

Poetry is the most honest expression of the poet. It is pure emotion and experience wrapped in words that aggregate to (re)produce feeling—and not all of our feelings are good. To ignore that our lives have been gifted poetry in the form of complexity is to disrespect the poetry within us. And it is the easiest way to dismiss us from recognition as poets.

I’ve known people who prefer poetry without profanity. I’ve known people who only want poetry about “happy” things. I’ve known people who want poetry that does not challenge them, and are not willing to sit and consider that the poetry itself is an expression of a person. To distill the person to what makes YOU comfortable; to whitewash genre and creative authority, is a cancellation of entire existences. And who gives us the authority to do so?

With all of this said, what I’m getting at is … be true to the poetry in YOU. There is no other way to be a poet. If you’re worried about reception and the comfort of others, course-correct, now! In the end, they will be okay … but you won’t. And all you’ll produce is a watered down version of yourself that does little to produce spiritual movement, but quite a bit to deform your craft. In all things, opportunities, and at all times … be fully poetically YOU.


When you commit yourself to learning a “foreign” language, it is said that the best way to learn is through immersion. That means immersing yourself in the culture and the language to such an extent that it comprises the majority of what you speak and hear.

Poetry is a foreign language, though it is not foreign to the poet. It lives inside you and has a life of its own to such an extent that you must respectfully approach it and ask it to teach you the nuances of its locution. Though we tend to think that we dictate the poetry, the poetry in fact dictates the poet. Despite the fact that it arises out of the poet and is the outgrowth of all his/her/their experiences and memories, the language of its poetry surpasses us.

A few weeks ago, I finally made the commitment to write poetry every day. It’s one of the first things I do when I get up (after coffee and journaling), but I have learned that I have to be intentional about getting it out. Some of the poems from those morning writing sessions have been good, and some have not. But what it has taught me is to be less concerned about writing “good” poetry and more concerned with the aspect of dialing into myself and accessing whatever nebulous poetic forms are swirling around in the waters of my spirit.

Immersion, for me, has meant looking for poetry everywhere. It has meant looking into my memories and figuring out the poetic aspects of some the most mundane, and sometimes hurtful, experiences I’ve had. Buried somewhere in all those composite parts of my person, there is poetry. What I’ve realized, however, is that this process of immersion also assures me that I am made of poetry. That is the revelation of a poet.

Talking to a friend a few days ago, he expressed an uncertainty—Am I a poet. To him, to you, I offer this: You are MADE of poetry, you just may not yet understand all the idioms and dialects of your poetic person. A daily journey inward does the job of excavating the poetic self, dismantling the ego, humbling us, and bringing us to the very feet of poetry—as a student rather than a master. Many of us want to master poetry.

You probably never will.

Poetry is not meant to be mastered, it is meant to be surrendered to.

When we garden, we only have control over sowing the seeds and nurturing them as they grow. We have no control whatsoever over whether or not the plant decides to flower or fruit. We may think we do, but we don’t . The fact is, the plant has its own cellular agenda and it does what it does. In the end we are amazed at the end product of our efforts, but we weren’t active in the determination of the shape of the fruit. The exception to this is laboratory manipulation, which produces inorganic forms (seedless grapes, watermelons, etc.). But in the market, I tend to choose seeded fruit over seedless. Something about fruit without seeds freaks me out; seeds are supposed to be there.

The point is, inorganic, manipulated poetry … yeah, it’s pretty. But is it natural?

The naturalness of your poetic person … that’s the beauty of you. YOU don’t have to be anyone except who you are in your rawest intended form. You can only discover that if you immerse yourself in the deep and surrender to the mastery of the poem as its own entity. That requires relationship. In my estimation, we poets should bring ourselves to our poetry daily and ask it to master us.

Treat poetry like your most important relationship and it will return the love.

D.O.P. (Death of Prompts)

The week on CLUBHOUSE got started with a pretty heated discussion about “prompts”–are they good or are they bad? *Insert exasperated sigh*.

Needless to say, the conversation overwhelmingly didn’t go well, as some misunderstood the intention behind it. I now realize that there is a disparity of experience where this is concerned. Some people are never asked to give a prompt; they’ve never been asked teach me how to write trauma poetry. For that reason, they won’t get it. They won’ t understand how exhausting it is to constantly have people asking you to give them something to write about, or the sentiment that, really, as a poet, you should be able to figure this out on your own. Are you an artist or a hobbyist?

Listen, I have no issue with prompts in general; it’s the abuse of prompts that is concerning, and the fact that it comes out of stifled creativity. I can’t really wrap my head around a person being asked to be a feature poet—to display who they are through their work—and them not having the capacity to demonstrate that without being … prompted. How would anyone else be able to reach into the depths of your person and pull out what is most essential for an audience to know about you?

“It’s fine to be guided, to ride on training wheels initially, but at some point you are expected to push off and soar without assistance.”


In all of the back and forth, the misinterpretations, and the attempts to backhand the conversation in the mouth because, how dare you critique an artf orm that, in its subjectivity is there to be critiqued???, there was this —ennui, or what the French call spiritual boredom. It never rose to the surface, but that’s what was swimming around underneath it all; a boredom with the notion of 20 “poets” producing variations of the same poem, in the same shared space. It’s akin to showing up to a buffet where there’s fried chicken fried with 20 different combinations of seasonings and breading. It’s the same chicken, and there’s not really going to be that difference between them all; and honestly after a while, it all tastes the same.

Poetry is personal; it is a convergence of the spiritual, emotional, the intellectual, and the experiential; but at its core, it should be inherently personal. That is not to say that you can’t take a prompt and make it personal, but if you adopt a child, although you have a child whom you love as your own with every fiber of being, blood nevertheless—at least at the biological level—raises up a mild disconnection. (I know, I’m walking a fine line here because someone reading this may have been adopted. Please don’t take offense; here what I’m saying in the spirit it’s intended). Were the situation to arise that someone needed a transplant, no matter how much they love one another, or how much they are devoted to the ideality and fundamental reality of their functioning as a family, that notion is interdicted by their disparity of blood. And therein lies the distinction in poetry. I may give you a prompt. You may write the poem. It may be the thing you needed to write. But somewhere beneath it all lives a slight disconnection of process that is important in the generativity of the poet.

I’m saying you have to learn eventually how to get to it on your own. It’s fine to be guided, to ride on training wheels initially, but at some point you are expected to push off and soar without assistance. That should be the goal of the poet, and it is the distinction between the artist and the hobbyist.


Poetry is organic and individually distinct as it takes form in the mind and spirit of the “poet.” My working definition of the “poet” insists that the moment we have an experience, we have poetry. Thus, we are all filled with volumes of untapped poetry that is unique to us, and that we offer to share, spacially, with others. Poetry inhabits us, but it also allows us to in habit others. It should be clear, however, that inspiration and assimilation are two different things.

“In that instance, we plagiarize not only our poesis, but the very notion that we are poets at all; which cannot be proven or affirmed until WE have come forward—have outed our poetic selves—in our work. Beware the piggyback poet.”

—A. Roberson

Often we are “inspired” by the work, or even the poetic voice of others. We may even aspire to present our own work with the same impact or force. But it is important to remember that the voice of your poetry vehemently resists patterning and inauthentic affect. That does not mean we can’t do it, it just means that what we end up producing and presenting when we “tailgate” other poets is a watered-down version of ourselves. In the end, not only is our audience cheated out of an opportunity to experience the poet sharing their worthwhile self-hood with organic purity, but we ourselves are denied the opportunity to create space within by releasing the poem fully, on its own terms, rather than on the heels of another poets voice.

Our voices are our own intellectual property, crafted out of, and as a reflection of, the depth of our human and spiritual experiences. That cannot be taught, patterned, or forced. The practice of attempting to do so is akin to cloning, but what it produces always lacks a “core,” has no depth of substance, no tangibility, no palpable grounding center. The artist ought to aspire, as a part of their journey to fully become the artist that they already are—stuffed down in the protective area of our energies—rather than a marketable and commercial version of the all-too familiar franchise poet. Diversity is the truest gift of art to artists and artists to art. And unless we are giving all that we are without dilution or the unnecessary and impositional addition of outside authentication ; unless we see and move in the known value of who we are in our fullness to what we produce and what we have to offer to our audiences and reading publics, we are wasting time and opportunities by hijacking the end result of other people’s experiences. In that instance, we plagiarize not only our poesis, but the very notion that we are poets at all; which cannot be proven or affirmed until WE have come forward in our work. Beware the piggyback poet.