we are not the poem

Putting Thoughts To Paper Graphic

Whilst lounging under a cabana a couple of weeks ago, I re-read a go-to writing book, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  This time one particular chapter left the page and has been stuck somewhere in the back of my mind ever since.  It reads as follows:

…We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever.  That’s not true.  We write in the moment.  Sometimes when I read poems at a reading to strangers, I realize they think those poems are me.  They are not me, even if I speak in the “I” person.  They were my thoughts and my hand and the space and the emotions at that time of writing.  Watch yourself.  Every minute we change.  It is a great opportunity.  At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin fresh.  That is how writing is.  Instead of freezing us, it frees us.  …It is important to remember that we are not the poem.  People will react however they want; and if you write poetry, get used to no reaction at all.  But that’s okay.  The power is always in the act of writing.  Come back to that again and again and again.  …Don’t identify too strongly with your work.  Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words.  They are not you.  They were a great moment going through you.  A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.  [Emphasis mine.]

As I reflect again on her words, I think about how much I hold back from this space… for fear of being frozen by my words.  I avoid talking about my experiences with religion, social justice, politics, and other things because I don’t want to be put in a box and have someone say… “but you said…!!!”  I feel so much more fluid than my words or photos might suggest.  I am constantly learning and growing and I don’t ever want to be in a position that I have become so cemented that I can’t gain a fresh perspective.  Just because I have articulated an experience about x,y,or z doesn’t mean that a new experience couldn’t make me think/feel very differently.

And a huge fear of mine is to appear flaky (i.e. changing my mind on things), and flaky = stupid and (according to my therapist) I value competence A LOT (in others and the way others perceive me).

But I guess I shouldn’t be making decision out of fear in the first place.  And I need to remember that I am not the poem… I am not my essay on x,y, & z and I am not my photography, etc.  And if others don’t understand that, maybe it’s not my issue, but theirs.


  1. Quite true. I will check out this book. I, too, tend to write poetry with the “I” even though this “I” is not me. Same with stories. I like to put myself in other people’s shoes. As for non-fiction writing and my blog about my life, I am always holding back. Like I can’t reveal too much or I will regret it. But vulnerability is what makes a great post and a popular blog. So I don’t know, maybe I’m not cut out for non-fiction blogging. Maybe I should stick to writing novels and my poetry/fiction blog. I’ve been ruminating over this for some time now, and I just happened to come across you blog this morning. What is the universe saying?!

    1. I’m so glad you found me! And how serendipitous! (You will also like this quote: https://patternoflife.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/parting-thought-brene-brown/ ) I think I struggle with the balance of being vulnerable, but not intimate, in this space. As much as I want to share my thoughts — as it is a way to process things — it’s still a public space. I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to share in such a public way. I still (after 5+ years) haven’t figured out quite why I keep coming back here…

      I am really looking forward to reading your lovely words as well!

  2. What a lovely reflection! As a writer/blogger, I have similar concerns to the ones you voice here, about writing about potent topics like faith and justice. And yet, as a reader, I want to encourage you to share those thoughts and experiences because there is so much to be learned in this great conversation of blogging. I think it is important for writers and readers alike to remember, we are not the poem.

  3. I often say things in the moment and when challenged later I remind people that like everything in the world I am not immune to change. The general consensus among adults is that at about 30 they are who they are and will not change like they did in youth but really that is not true and would be sad so I say be who you are at that time and if that is not who you are in the future then bravo!

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