On Questioning My Writing Poetry

Poetry…Why do I write it? Why I am struggling to write it, of late? Will I ever able to write it again or was it just a fling? Is there any difference between a diarist and a poet? If yes, which one am I? These are some of the questions that plagued me during my poetry writing funk, at the beginning of the year and with Covid outbreak.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Poetry is my first love and my first choice of self-expression. Loving it and being my first doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always easy to write, far from it. Perhaps, like first loves the magic is in my naivety of thinking I’ll always be the centre of its attention.

Anyway, during that time I caught up on some reading, other poets as well as art and creativity, at large. I also came to a new realization about my own writing, and as follows:

1. Sometimes I’m a diarist

It hit me, when Billy Collins popped up on my computer screen advertising his masterclass and saying, “Poetry is a diary you want to share with others.” There it was, the source of my writing paralysis. To be honest, I was writing but I just didn’t feel liking blogging my poems or drafts. Perhaps, it was a result of not getting instant gratification (blog comments and community support) that made me feel as if I wasn’t writing.

2. How to be a poet!

I have Wendell Berry’s How to be a Poet bookmarked for listening on days I need a good reminder on how to simply Be. Not the names I call myself or titles given by others, because they can distract.

3. Embracing the season

I’ve mentioned before Wild Words as my go-to writing blog. So, naturally during my writing funk, I went back to the very first episode, and listened again. Because it was important to embrace the liminal space I was in.

4. On being suited to my calling

There is a chapter in Rachel Friedman’s book (pictured below) where she states that it takes time to find out whether one’s personality aligns with their passion. I certainly didn’t have to think hard about whether I’m suited to my “calling” as a writer.

But I did give a fair amount of thought on whether I was “holding [myself] up to a particular type of artistic identity” instead of being flexible and allow myself to explore other forms of self-expression and storytelling. This book, by the way, is a good investment.

5. I simply won’t stop writing poetry

When self-doubt creeps in, I remind myself why I write poetry. I also revisit some of the kind and generous words from readers, who get my writing. Because feedback like this carries me through, when I ask myself “What’s the point of it all?”

But enough about my insecurities as a writer. Instead here’s a question if you are a creative, what kind of artistic identity do you stay true to? Mind you, this is not to put you in some box. But perhaps a reminder to re-examine the “thread” that ties your work together, and stay true to yourself.

Khaya Ronkainen
Khaya Ronkainen is a writer, poet and blogger. Her blog focuses on poetry and creative nonfiction, and also features poets and their books.

34 Comments

  1. “What’s the point of it all” is a question I’ve explored a lot – on one side are the easy answers about self-expression or passion or “because one can” but on the other are the trickier issues of readers, reach etc. And social media/blogs etc. make it easy to get bogged down by this line of thought. I’ve barely written anything in 2020, but you’re right about comments and support from readers because that pushes me to keep writing (or keep trying, anyway) one better than my last poem. I’ll worry about who reads it or not, later 🙂

  2. Keep writing, Khaya, whatever form works! I do think it is too easy for one to put themselves in an artistic “bin” and close the lid. Maybe it is because I am too easily distracted by various forms of expression, but I have found that “letting the garden grow” whatever suits the mental soil and climate at the time works well. Sometimes there are dry periods, just like summer, and a little water is needed to keep things green.

  3. Thank you Rajani for taking time to read. It’s a relief to hear that I’m not the only who had to explore this question, “What’s the point of it all.” While most of us writing poetry aren’t in it for money, I agree the trickier issue of readership and reach can be discouraging.

    I also think year 2020 will go down as the most challenging emotionally and mentally. With writing I started from being paralyzed by it all. And when I was finally able to write, I questioned if my jottings were worth of the reader’s time, i.e. was it just navel-gazing. But what choice do we have than to keep at it? 🙂 All the best to you!

  4. Thank you Lavinia for the encouragement, I should indeed let the garden grow though sometimes it’s just full of stinging nettle. But I guess that weed has it’s use too.:-) When it comes to putting oneself in a bin and closing the lid, I think you are so right. Sometimes sticking to the tried and tested seems a better option, especially in dry periods.

    My “word” for this year is Expand. And my aim was to stretch myself by writing in other genres and even taking up other forms of creativity. Did I succeed? Well, we are now in November and I’m still talking about my questioning writing poetry. Perhaps, and as you suggest, I need to keep watering…

  5. An interesting reflection, Khaya, and I’m sorry that you’ve been struggling… though the process of self-exploration is likely a valuable one. And perhaps an opportunity for inspiration. I identify as a fantasy writer, though that isn’t the only thing I do. It’s the thing I apply all my soul to. Everything else is dabbling. 🙂

  6. Hi Diana, I love how you decidedly identity; a fantasy writer. Because I think it makes it easier to sort of decide that other creative pursuits are just dabblings, if there’s such a word.😊

    Perhaps (this is gross assumption, of course) for fiction writers this artistic identity comes easy. I mean I still have difficulties calling myself a poet, even though I write to a large extent poetry. And this is not about modesty, because I readily accept being a poet when someone else calls me one. Go figure!

    But thank you, my friend. Having these kind of conversations and self-explorations with other writers is always enlightening…xx

  7. To me, perhaps, it’s just about where I invest my time, money, and energy, where I continue to educate myself, where I willingly labor even when its painful. That last point is perhaps noteworthy… as it elevates a craft beyond what we simply do for fun.

  8. Khaya, I believe the struggle(s) are part of the process. Continue to lean into it…your words are beautiful and prolific. Each time I read you, your words I’m always left with a great energy of calmness, rightness yet in awe of your gift. My writings are based on my experiences which leads to the depth of my vulnerability—do I want to share? It rocks my intimacy. My default: “Writers write.” May your strength renew, always continue.

  9. Hi Michelle, it’s lovely to see you around the blogs. Thank you so much for taking time to read and for your very encouraging comment. I appreciate your input a lot. It’s good too to hear how my writing comes across to readers. And achieving that calmness can be tricky, even though it’s something I’m always striving for and more so in the chaotic world we live in, nowadays.

    I think you go that right about depth of vulnerability that goes with writing based on one’s experiences. It can be downright difficult to share. Yet vulnerability and authenticity are what draw me to your writings. When I read your snippets on Instagram, I’m always thinking I’d like to read a full volume; the entire book of this wisdom. But I live in hope as I see glimpses of chapters on your blog. 🙂

    But forward we forge because, “Writers write.”

  10. Many thanks, Michelle. I shall continue to wear poetry on my sleeve. 🙂 <3

    By the way as I was browsing the net yesterday, I came across this interest observation "What writers and therapists have in common? Both writers and therapists need their own authentic voices--they need to say what they alone can say."
    https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/1204/what-writers-and-therapists-have-in-common

    And so, I send these beautiful words back at you…You’ve earned your flow not only as a writer but also as a therapist. Keep up the good work!

  11. Annika Perry shared about you on Twitter. I too am compelled to write and do so in my weekly WordPress blog. My husband and I were in Helsinki, Finland in Aug. of 2019 and just loved the place. Thank you for a lovely post, Be well and keep writing poetry. It heals and is food for the soul.

  12. I think most of us have not pleasant encounters–or straight up wars–with doubt. I also think that you combat the situation quite well. Letting others remind us how much they love our words is a great remedy. When I run into the inevitable, “Why am I doing this?” I remind myself that if I didn’t, I might start screaming. That always gets me going again.

  13. Oh, bless Annika for the share! And thanks you to you too MaryAnn for reading. Your kind comment is what makes blogging and sharing with other bloggers worthwhile. Much appreciated.

    Yes, I remember you and your hubby visited Helsinki last year. I also recall you had a wonderful experience too. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the day, when it will possible to travel again.

  14. Khaya, yes, we sang in a Prague concert with the Berkshire Choral International. I agree regarding bloggers and commenting. It is a way of connecting around the world when we can’t travel. One of these days again I hope to travel too. Be well. Where do you live in Finland? ^__^

  15. I believe we all struggle, get lost in ourselves or the world. I know I struggled to find my voice again during the pandemic. It seemed to get swallowed up in the anxiety and how futile the effort seemed and how small I had suddenly become in perspective. Yet writing is at my soul and at my center, so eventually, I am always able to find my way back. I think your words are very wise and your methods a true path to guide yourself home. I definitely relate to what you said about the lack of feedback changing how it felt, even though words are written even when not read by other eyes!

  16. You’ve got a great point there Maga about why you are doing this. And as I once joked, I have no choice but write or otherwise risk ending up in a mental institution. Only I’m not joking now, writing is like breathing. I do it for my own survival before hoping that someone will eventually read my writings.

    And yes, having those lovely reminders (reviews) of our works is a great remedy, indeed. I have great respect for book reviewers, book bloggers and anyone who takes time to rate a book or write even a one-liner review. They all go a long way!

  17. You are so right, writing I also believe is at every writer’s soul. With all the struggles I face sometimes with creating or writing, I can’t imagine not writing. Even if it means writing for myself.

    There are so many anxieties in our world right now, which to a larger extent creep up on my creative process. Sure these anxieties offer inspiration but as a fellow poet, Rajani captures it in her poem, “Not all of 2020 can be kneaded into grief-shaped poems, most parts are so silent and so alone” This pretty much sums it up for me!

    Thank you, Christina for reading and your encouragement. All the best with your writing too. I can’t wait to read your next novel. There’s surely enough material for your genre. 🙂

  18. What sort of artistic identity do I stay true to? Dang… I hadn’t thought of it that way before. LOL, I feel like I might need to take some time to soul search to get to the bottom of that. What I do know is I like to write. I’m a little terrified at the prospect of being a diarist, but have to agree there is some truth in that. Some of my best stuff came from moments I just let my emotions go all over the page. I like telling stories. I love it when my thoughts start conversations.

  19. I think the way I stay true to myself as a writer is to always remember my purpose, to inspire. There was one time when I began writing something, and it was more like venting or a diary. I scrapped it because I never want my blogging or any writing to come from a place of venting, but rather, to always teach or inspire in some way. I think this is how I keep myself honest, kind of like being my own accountability partner <3

  20. I think for all of us we do struggle from time to time, but it seems we do eventually work through it.

    Take care, stay safe and well.

    All the best Jan

  21. Dang…Exactly!:D You and I seem to be in the same boat. I had to do some soul searching as well. Because I had aspirations to become a novelist. But the more I write, the clearer it becomes that it’s not the direction I’m headed for. “What I do know is I like to write.” I think loving or liking to write is enough, whatever artistic identity we align ourselves with. Keep telling those stories!

  22. And you have mastered that, Kathy. Your blog bears testimony to your writer’s purpose; it inspires, you inspire. I’m with you hundred percent on this one “I never want my blogging or any writing to come from a place of venting…” and if I can’t help it, I turn to my diary because at least, it will hear me whether I’m being unreasonable or not. 🙂 Thank you for adding to this conversation!

  23. Thank you for this, Khaya. This has helped me today. 🙂

  24. Khaya, I loved your posts the first time I read – and I thought I wrote a comment then. Seemingly not, so happy to revisit your posts today and your words struck an even deeper chord with me. I can relate to you questioning yourself, your true and your artistic self – although you write about it much more eloquently. I wonder if these questions are not part and parcel of an artistic life, that we need to endure, work through these questions to become even better at our gift? I’m making a note of Rachel Friedmen’s book and definitely want to read it. As for Billy Collins, this is the second time this week I come across his name! Ahh … it’s lovely of you to share the link of my review of your special book and one which still has pride of place on my bookshelf. It was the start to me returning to poetry in a bigger way and with much more thought. Wishing you much joy with your creative poetic writings! hugs xx

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