ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): H for Honesty

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Headshot FilteredThere seems no better place than an essay about honesty in writing to admit the sad fact that the reason I’m a poet is a simple one: I’m a coward. I don’t mean to be. I wish I had enough pluck and courage to tackle a memoir but such nakedness sends my anxiety over the edge. Now, dear fellow poets, before you come at me with rusty pitchforks or vitriolic response letters, let me say, so many poets I know are brave souls doing the good, hard work of revelation. I applaud them. I cheer for them & root for them & envy them. Meanwhile, I’m trying to write my failures & fears & faults of loved ones (dear God, especially the faults loved ones) into some kind of compromise: a poem. A poem in which I might not tell factual truth but instead emotional truth, an absolute honesty.

Poetry is just about the only kind of writing I do. Oh sure, there was a failed attempt at a neglected blog, a few interviews. I find candidness easy in those forums because they allow me my weapon of choice: humor. It’s much easier to tell the truth with a joke. Seriousness isn’t typically my style, except in poetry. The kind of sad bastard poems I write strips me of the tool I’ve come to rely on to get through anything difficult. Poetry is a place I go when I want to say something I can’t scream from the mountain tops.

So here I am, working in the dirt of line breaks & stanzas. Here I am not planting in straight rows, instead casting my carefully chosen words to the earth and waiting to see how things come up out of the ground. Here I am masking how I write with a gardening metaphor rather than saying the simple fact of the matter: A poem starts in me with a line or two. Something I can’t get out of my head. Over an afternoon or a couple of days the words connect to concrete images. Or they reach back into fuzzy memory. If I’m lucky they go both places. And across those strings of connectedness there begins a hum, a vibration like mumbled words over a tin can telephone. I listen closely for the message.

This is where things get tricky. Often the message is scary. It poses a chance of hurting someone I love or unmasking me as the villain I often am and both of those things suck. But being a writer is like some kind of crazy sorority I pledged myself to years ago and I’m bound by that oath to keep going, to keep writing no matter how dicey things get. And so, I tune in to the emotional frequency behind my fear and when I’ve done this I tap into the truth of the poem. I can get inside the seed I can feel my way around inside and create work from the inside out. Isn’t writing so much like a flower? No matter how different they are on the outside they’ve all got the same basic system pumping oxygen underneath, reaching for the sun up top. How beautiful is that?

When I told my friend I was writing a piece on honesty in poetry he said, “The poem itself is an artifice.” How right he is. In fact, to quote Gary Leising (another poet whose work I greatly admire) “…you know that poems lie…” Dear reader, I hope you find your way to my garden of words and I hope you find that place worthy of your time. But know that we have an agreement before you ever step foot over the threshold of the poem: you agree to be open to the most beautiful or the scariest places – places I’ve lead & nudged you to with my words. Places I’ve tended with care even though the roses may be paper mache.

Leigh Anne Hornfeldt, a Kentucky native, is the author of East Main Aviary & The Intimacy Archive and the editor at Two of Cups Press. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, as well as the recipient of a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. In 2013 her poem “Laika” placed 2nd in the Argos Prize competition (Dorianne Laux, judge) and in 2012 she received the Kudzu Prize in Poetry.

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