Like the advice from school teachers to ask your question because someone else, probably, has the same question but is afraid to ask; writing in your own voice can be a frightening thought. The fear of being laughed at and embarrassed is enough to stop many people. The task of finding out what your voice is and being brave enough to put it out to the world can be an arduous one. Also like asking that question, once you find out the answer, you have the knowledge to be successful.
I heard the admonition to write in my authentic voice in workshops and classes over and over, but no one told me how to identify it or, more importantly, how to find the market for it. After reading one of my poems; an accomplished writer friend said that it was nice, but I'd never make it into the "New Yorker" writing like that. I was stunned and a little embarrassed. It hadn't occurred to me that my goal should be the "New Yorker." Was I writing wrong? Was I looking at poetry the wrong way? My authentic voice didn't resonate with her. What had I done wrong? It took time for me to figure out that the thing I did wrong was to expect that everyone would read my poetry and like it. That experience didn't change the way I write, it changed the way I look at who is my target reader. Once I knew who I was writing for, I could find journals that reached them.
My anthem became that my poetry doesn't stir the soul, it touches the heart. There are so many people who have been turned off to poetry. My voice has found a home with them. In a world full of requests for resistance, prose poetry; my poetry is often seen as naÃ¯ve or elementary. A successful reading is one where someone can come up to me afterwards and tell me that a particular poem resonated with them. It's not that I can't write resistance, soul stirring, metaphors requiring deep thought. It's that my heart, my voice, isn't intended for that genre.
As I have delved into writing, I said that I am not a spoken word poet. But when circumstances stirred my soul, I blasted out a spoken word poem that sent a room up in cheers and applause that shocked me. My partner was astounded and asked; "Wow, where did that come from?" It reminded me that I can dig deeper and find the depth of my soul. It's not my "inside voice" but it is still my voice. I accept and nurture each one for what it is. There are also voices in me that have gone untapped. There may come a day when I write from their point of view, but they haven't raised their hand and asked to be heard. If pushed, they clam up and what results is obviously forced, fake sounding work. For others, pushing that voice results in magnificent work, you won't know until you try.
Thinking outside the box is a requirement if you're voice is quieter than the rest of the room. There is a market out there for any kind of poetry you write. It can take going to page five or six in a search, but something is there. I have found success by moving outside of poetry inclusive publications. By bringing my focus in to local publications that print poetry, I've had more local exposure. Everyone has to start somewhere, but if you never get started you won't be anywhere. Once I got a few poems accepted locally, I had the nerve to try poetry markets. It took time, and a lot of research, but I've started to have success in the broader world. You will too. Being realistic about what success will mean is important.
Finally, poets are a blended family. We are a lot of different people, but we have a common name. I am not a Goth, sonnet poet, or a tortured soul from a foreign land, or the wife of a successful business man with writing as a hobby; but I admire and respect all of those voices. Anyone who is willing to raise their hand and ask to be heard, with the certainty of rejection, is brave and worthy of that much of me. I don't have to like their poetry, or even understand it, but I applaud their effort. And I hope for the same in return.
There are an abundance of fabulous quotes, by people who have had tremendous success, available to anyone who needs a message to pin on a board or refrigerator. If it helps you, do that. For me, it took saying out loud, "The worst thing that can happen is that a complete stranger doesn't like my poems." Once I said it out loud, it became less scary. Raise your hand, ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen is, and then send your voice out to the world. We are waiting.
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Laura Tarasoff is a writer, poet, explorer, and believer of people. She enjoys a terrific burger, a rolling laugh, and a book of poetry that captivates her imagination. Laura strives to use her writing to encourage others to find strength in themselves to get through the hardest parts of life. Laura's poetry has appeared in Westward Quarterly, Peeking Cat Poetry Journal, and Nursing News from Whidbey Health. Her wonderings, musings and scattered thoughts can be found on her blog: FindingHopeInTheDarkness.blogspot.com. Follow Laura on Twitter @LSTarasoff.