I’ve been writing poetry since my early teens, and for pretty much all of that time I’ve had what I can only describe as a spoken word poet’s inferiority complex. It wasn’t that I didn’t think my stuff was any good -I’m pretty proud of even the worst of my word doodles- more that I didn’t think anybody else would because I had it in mind that I just wasn’t doing it right.
Every time I listened to a spoken word poet, it always seemed to be the case that they were very angry about something or other, about politics or religion, sexuality, abuse, the environment, gender roles, you name it, somebody’s performing poetry about it.
At the risk of sounding heartless, I simply didn’t -and mostly still don’t- care enough about that stuff that I would ever feel compelled to write about it. Sure, I have done in the past; the first poem I ever had published in 2002 was about child abuse (That poem was called About a Boy and you can read it here if you want to), and five years later, the same poetry ‘zine which published that also published a small little ditty about war called Too Much, but those are exceptions rather than the rule.
Truth is, I don’t really know enough about politics, religion or any of that stuff to write honestly about it, nor have I really ever felt angry -or even just passionate- enough to want to. The world spins, there are good and bad people doing good and bad things, none of which are any of my business.
I take it as a positive that I don’t particularly get angry about a lot of stuff these days. Live and let live, to each their own, keeping my side of the street clean, that’s all the kind of stuff I take seriously.
The world isn’t against us, it’s indifferent,
Spins regardless, a mostly harmless ball of EVERYTHING.
What does any of this have to do with writing poetry and my spoken word poet’s inferiority complex? In a word, EVERYTHING. I felt that because I wasn’t writing politically-fueled rants against the abundance of injustice in the world, I couldn’t really claim to be a ‘real poet.’ I felt that because I wasn’t writing the kind of beautiful, narrative-driven stuff that is the trademark of one of my favourite poets, Buddy Wakefield, there just wasn’t room in the world of poetry for someone like me, someone who writes and records his work for no other reason than because it makes me feel good.
Writing and freedom
Look, I write a lot of words. By the end of today, I imagine I’ll have churned out several thousand of them, the majority being sold on to my freelance copywriting clients. I enjoy it, most of the time I even love it. There’s very few jobs in the world I’d rather do than writing for a living, but if I’m being honest, copy isn’t the kind of writing I enjoy the most. it’s too formal, too inflexible to really give me the kind of thrill I really enjoy from writing.
There’s rules to follow, structures to adhere to, briefs to match. There’s beginnings, middles, and ends to consider, sometimes there’s Search Engine Optimisation work that needs to take place, other times there’s sales pitches to hammer home or compelling Calls to Action to incorporate. I’m not complaining.
This stuff pays the bills. It paid for the laptop I’m writing this post on, the Internet connection I’ll use to post it, the Peppermint tea I’m drinking as I write, and the Spotify subscription that plays my favourite tunes in the background. Yet what it doesn’t do is give me freedom.
The kind of writing I enjoy the most is the kind where I don’t have to think about any of that stuff. Where the only structures to adhere to are the ones that come naturally as I write, and the only rule I need to follow is that there are no rules.
I enjoy just closing my eyes, seeing what’s going on in that big jumbled up mess I call my mind, and spilling it out on the page. I enjoy writing for the joy of writing, not because I’m angry about something, about doing it to make me happy than to inspire anybody else. Ultimately, I enjoy words, just words. I love the way they sound, the pictures they create, the way they’ll continually surprise me by rearranging themselves on paper without me having to put too much thought into it.
Sure, sometimes I’ll use those words to tell a story. By far my favourite spoken word poetry piece I’ve written to date is a narrative piece called Elizabeth, but more often than not, I enjoy doing stuff like Inventors of the Death Smiles, where all I’m interested in is playing with words, seeing what comes out, making word doodles.
And man, did we smile those morose death smiles, like we were the last child of music,
The one remaining beat that thudded and faded against the thunder, the aching, faded beat of the aged
I much prefer making word doodles than writing poetry. It’s more fun. It’s more free. This probably explains why half the stuff I write these days is about freedom, about breaking loose from old ideas, old habits, old ways of living, and moving into a new life where I’m free to live in a way that’s more in keeping with my own ideas and beliefs.
It also explains -to me anyway- why I still have an inferiority complex about my poetry and spoken word stuff. As much as I love it, I don’t feel like I take it seriously enough to find my place in that big ol’ world of poetry and performance.
There is good news though. Though a part of that inferiority complex still exists, it isn’t half as strong as it once was. The more I write, the more I do my little word doodles, the more I learn and grow, the less I care about fitting in or whether or not there’s a place for me. If there is no place, I’ll create one of my own, a place where I’m free to doodle away and enjoy the kind of thrilling freedom that has made writing the one thing I’ve been passionate about since I was old enough to pick up a pen.