by Rachel Unkefer
This summer I’m doing something I never thought I’d do. I’m taking a poetry class. It’s not that I have anything against poetry. I’ve enjoyed readings by great poets at places like the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and count several poets among my friends. I’ve just never been drawn to poetry. I’m a fiction writer and reader.
Recently there have been a few nagging ideas, though, that I haven’t known what to do with. They weren’t enough to base a short story on, even flash fiction. They could have been musings in the head of a character in a novel, but they had too much weight for me to relegate them to such a minor role. And they wouldn’t go away. Looking out my window or walking in my neighborhood triggered them.
Maybe these are poems, I thought, but I don’t know how to write poems. I don’t count the poem-like things I wrote in high school and college, the usual angst-y stuff. I picked up a copy of the text used for a WriterHouse poetry class, The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. I started to think I could make these things into poems, but then what? How would I know whether they made sense to anyone else? Rose Elliott’s poetry workshop was starting soon. I signed up.
More than one friend pointed out that taking a poetry class might distract me from my novel and other fiction projects. There may be some truth to that, but I have to write about what’s most compelling to me at the moment. And these things were nagging at me. If nothing else, maybe I could get rid of them by writing them into poems and then move on.
I workshopped two poems, which was helpful. Now I need to revise them. It occurs to me that I’ve now added a few poems to my pile of unfinished fiction works. Not to mention those few early drafts of personal essays.
There’s a word for this: dilettante. It doesn’t have positive associations. We’re supposed to pick something and stick with it, not dabble in a variety of art forms or businesses or hobbies. But I’ve always pursued a lot of diverse things at the same time. In addition to my volunteer work for WriterHouse, I prepare tax returns for fun. I’ve been a music impresario, a printed-circuit board designer, and a bookstore owner. I’ve dabbled in languages, genetic genealogy, and choral singing. Might as well add poetry to the list. I don’t happen to believe there’s anything wrong with opening up to as many possibilities as I have time for (or even more than I have time for); I keep learning and meeting new people in the process.
And in the process, I looked up the root of the word dilettante. It comes from the Italian verb dilettare ”to delight.” Perfect.
Rachel Unkefer is a founding member and current president of WriterHouse. Her fiction has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere. Her own blog languishes at rachelunkefer.com while she writes this guest post.