You’ll Find Small Ways

by Philip F. Clark

“What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”

— Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays

One line will come in one month; it will be worth the ones that didn’t in one year. Someone will say, “That poem really stayed inside of me,” — someone you don’t know, and never met until that reading that night. And they’ll go away, met, and with the poem of yours inside of them. You won’t win prizes, and you will. You’ll fall in love and write bad poems; you’ll have your heart broken and write true poems. Morning hours are the time for listening, and every hour is the morning. You’ll convince yourself that you’re on to something new, but what you’re on to is the vast finding out of who it is you had no idea you are becoming. Emily Dickinson was constantly writing on the poorest of scraps of paper — her gift to the world which now prints her works on the best paper there is. “There are no Dead, dear Katie, the Grave is but our moan for them,” she wrote. Find your scraps every day.

Look at someone and be glad that you love them: Be glad that they loved you back. Don’t try to write about what that feels like, and it will come. For what it’s worth, there is going to be pain, because you can’t help but go deep. And the deeper you go, the better the air feels when you rise. Find other poets, a very few, who will stay with you the rest of your life. Read everything; keep little.

Start young or old; older is better. Retrospect is different from reflection; one has a darker eye. The process of writing is different for everyone. Find yours, or better yet, let it find you. Your friends will write reams of work, and they’ll publish long before you do. Some will be accorded crowns and diadems, others dunce caps. Wear neither on your head. Resist the frenzy of renown but welcome real acclaim when it comes; thank your mentors. Kindness never hurt a poem; it never hurt a poet either. You’ll be on the subway, at a concert of Bruckner’s 9th, at a party for a friend, at a funeral, in bed with someone kissing you, you’ll be burning your toast, taking a test, crying at a diagnosis. These are the places where the light of poems will arrive — you’ll find small ways to be glad for the benediction.