A few years ago, I decided to attend the panels In the Poetry Room. I listened to the two presenters, (aka teachers), as they dialogued on and on about prose and on writing. I did the writing exercises they prescribed, and decided that I would stand up and read a poem or two when the time came for open mike at the podium.
Realizing early on that the gist of these "teachings" were primarily focused on prose, I knew that I had to tread carefully. I, after all, was a rhyming poet, I was on their turf, and I was outnumbered in a room full of writers of prose. I did as best I could to give every evidence in my manner that I was one of them so that they might let me stay.
Then the open mike sessions began, and I felt fear! I was about to give myself away. As I sat there waiting my turn, prose after prose was read aloud by the other students in the room. Each piece was sincerely critiqued by the teachers, as well as by other students in the room. And then, it was my turn at the podium.
Realizing how nervous I was about reading aloud, my husband and my daughter had decided to join me that day, for emotional support. I hesitantly left their company, approached the front of the room with my printed poem quivering in my grasp, and I began to read. The poem I read was decidedly not a work in prose.
I'm not very good at reading my poetry out loud. I did my best to look composed and to articulate clearly, but i know that I failed in both. Having finished reading, I returned to my seat to await the critiques that were about to come my way. The room was hushed and still, and my anxiety continued to swell.
To be fair, they didn't see it coming, but the teachers did their level best to give a clean appraisal of what they'd just heard. One of them illustrated an arc in the air, saying that I had started "here," had made this steady shape, and had ended perfectly. "That's very hard to do!" they said.
Later on, I read another of my rhyming poems, and received an almost identical response as before. Again, the arc in the air was drawn, and it was stressed that what I had done is very difficult to do. I read a third poem in that room. It was a very romantic poem that I'd written for my husband. This one got a very different critique.
"You simply cannot use the word love over and over in a poem," was their overriding reaction to My Heart Upon a Loom. They emphasised this one point for several minutes as I quietly listened and nodded. And then I heard my family suppressing their giggles. "Mom," my daughter whispered to me, "the word love isn't in that poem!"
She was correct, and I suddenly realized that I had succeeded in getting across what I had intended to in that poem: my love for my husband came through cleanly and clearly in that piece without ever once using the words, "I love you." It was a huge success, though not in the eyes of the teachers.
Later, a woman who had stood and read her prose that day took me gently by the arm as I was walking by. "Thank you," she whispered. "I used to write like that, too, but I thought we weren't supposed to. Now I know it's okay! Thank you!" All that afternoon her words clung to me. I decided then to someday publish my work, if only to encourage other would-be rhymers to do what they yearn to do.
Thank you, gentle poetess, wherever you are!