Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I Write

I spent a sleepless night last night, between the perceived snub of not being able to reach Mr. Iyengar directly to show some of my poems and thank him for creating this system of yoga that has given so much to my life and the pain in my hip/back. Richard and I sat up talking about this for quite a while, and he asked me why I wrote these poems. Were they, as he perceived them, works of art, written for their own sakes, ultimately, or were they emblems of hero worship? Since I had myself looked with great suspicion on the hero worship bestowed on Mr. Iyengar (or on anyone for that matter), refusing to think of him as anything but a human being--one who has achieved great things, but human for all of that--I had to stop and think hard about this question. Of course, the poems are poems, whatever they are about. I wrote them for whatever reason I write anything, no matter what their subject matter is, or the impetus that gave them birth.
That's when I started to think about how I began writing, and why. I apparently began making things out of words long before I could write. My parents' friend, Vivien, told me that when I was barely big enough to talk, I began telling her a story I had made up and asked her to write it down. I always loved books, and one of my early memories is seeing things written and being frustrated at not being able to make them out. I tried and tried, but it eluded me. When I studied foreign languages, this feeling again reemerged, particularly languages like Russian, with its script entirely unlike ours.
In middle school, where I was entirely out of place, I used storytelling as a way in to the society of my peers, who adopted me as an unofficial entertainer, rather like the artists who hung about the medieval courts. And, I realized, I have never entirely given up this role, though in college I found a group of people like myself. But, as John Sayles realized and ironically reflected, an anarchist's convention is a paradoxical thing, a group of people who never quite fit in still is not quite a group.
As I grew, I learned to hold these writerly impulses a little closer to the chest, because there were others who would steal them, or because, more often, they would not be understood or respected. This happened to me anyway, since, out of impulses I could not control, I wrote poems to celebrate various things, such as Jewish holidays, people, general feelings of unfocused joy, only to get in return a shrug of incomprehension.
Once, as a college student, to merge my love of poetry and tropical fish, I wrote some poems and sent them to Tropical Fish Hobbyist. I knew they did not belong there, but still was a bit put out when I got in return a note instructing me on how to write limericks.
So the poems in my yoga series are poems, and I guess I knew when I wrote them that it was likely that people who don't read poems, don't get them, would not be likely to see these poems as what they are: a gift I give in the only way I can, because I cannot express my feelings in the way others can, directly, anywhere near as well as I can in writing.


Lou said...

This is a very important post you've written, Robbi, as you feel around among your memories and impulses. Whatever occurred with Mr. Iyengar, he has served his purpose as the ear into which you've poured these very beautiful poems. Because these poems have emerged quickly and recently, you might consider letting them cool a little before you seek public readers. Whatever you do, please just know that I have been deeply honored to read all of them.

Anonymous said...



Robbi said...

Thank you Lou. I have already published one of them (it isn't out yet though) and entered two of them in a contest, but I will take your advice not to send out any more for a little while. I am still in the process of talking to an artist about collaboration with me on a chapbook and I still have one more poem to write. Thank you for being a patient and willing reader.

Robbi said...

Thanks Beth. Happy holidays to you!

liz said...

It was very nice to read Lou's encouraging response, and I too feel honored.
Something I read recently said:
We give of ourselves when we give gifts of the heart: kindness, tolerence, foregiveness.
From the mind: ideas, dreams, purposes, ideals, projects, and... poetry.
From the spirit: prayers, vision, aspiration, peace, faith.
"Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself."
It seems your impulses (for lack of a better word)are just reacting to the authentic season of giving

Robbi said...

Thank you Liz. I have been honored to give these words to you.