For the Love of Poetry

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Shortly before the end of my first semester at college, I became acquainted with an English teacher who self-identified as “hard to please.” A polarizing force, students either loved or hated her—most often the latter—and for some mysterious reason, she took a liking to me.

I remember sitting across from her in the café of a bookstore that no longer exists on the corner of Church and Cherry. We ordered tea, chose a seat by the window, and chatted for a solid hour about various topics pertaining to writing and academia. A published author herself, she was remarkably encouraging.

At the time, I was writing a lot of poetry and personal narrative and she had asked me to bring along a few pieces she hadn’t already read for class. She noted that the majority of my poems were about love and then made the casual remark that love was a common theme amongst young people, as though it were something that one would naturally outgrow.

Seven years and two degrees later, I still think about this comment.

I went through an extended creative dry spell after transferring schools and switching majors, but on those rare occasions when I felt the tug of the elusive muse and put pen to paper, out would pour those old, familiar sentiments: love, lust, heartbreak. The phrasing was different (as were the subjects) but the desire to gather my emotions and translate them into something tangible was still there.

Love, passion, intimacy—these are the things that stir my muse; the forces upon which I’ve chosen to construct my creative foundation.

I’ve heard it argued that all writing is an act of love, whether it’s love of another person, an ideal, or a deep appreciation of story. By that logic, even hate mail can be construed as an act of love and most certainly an act of passion—albeit perverse—for what is hate if not the space between the way something is and the way we wish it to be? Hate requires a great deal of emotion and care, unlike indifference, which is arguably harder to stomach.

Perhaps all poems are love poems, in a sense.

I don’t think I will ever outgrow love poetry insofar as I do not think it is possible to outgrow love. I’m not talking about infatuation, though even that has its virtues, if only to remind us that we’re still bleeding and breathing. No, I’m talking about the kind of love that seeps into your bones and lingers for years, even decades, long after the initial belly-flip has flopped and butterflies have flown. I also do not limit my definition of “love poetry” to romantic attachment, since one could argue that poetry pertaining to friendship and filial tenderness is just as valid and potentially longer-lasting.

The English teacher and I have since fallen out of touch. I like to think that she’d be glad to know that I’m writing again, even if my subject matter has only gotten—ahem—more explicit as I explore the deeper, darker corners of love and intimacy.

I’m curious. For those who write about love, sex, passion, attraction, etc., how has your work changed over time? Were there periods in which you found yourself veering away from these topics, consciously or coincidentally? What sorts of reactions do you provoke when you explain (or even show) you work to others?

23 thoughts on “For the Love of Poetry

  1. My art teacher was very much like that and repeatedly informed me that the worst thing was indifference.

    When I write the response I’m primarily looking for is validation, which I guess necessarily comes from other writers like yourself. It’s great to hear that I’ve moved someone, but hearing that I’ve moved someone who’ll read my work and pull it apart in the way only a writer can, well that’s an achievement that really feeds my ego.

    I just sent you an email which will give you an opportunity to find out just how much my writing has changed, over a relatively short period too. Before, I wrote to tell a story, now I feel like I write because I love writing and words. I hope I’m occasionally capable of reconciling those motives and creating something really good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Having someone who’s willing to rip our brain-babies apart without making things personal is invaluable. At the same time, I think I value writer and reader feedback equally, but for different reasons. Other writers can help us dig deep into craft and make sure we’re hitting all the right buttons. However, and maybe this is just me, but I have a hard time reading other people’s work without also thinking about how it relates to my own. Not exactly a “How does this compare to my work?” scenario, but more like, “Oh! That’s a really great plot device. I wonder if I could do something like that.” Readers who aren’t writers, on the other hand, take stories at face value which offers a special kind of purity of opinion. Maybe it depends on the type of writing you’re doing. Literary fiction is pretty much rooted in that academic, peer-review environment, whereas commercial and genre fiction tend more toward entertainment, with most of the discussion taking place among readers. Then again, I might be talking out of my ass.

      I took a peek at the stories you mentioned in your e-mail (along with a few others…you didn’t really think I’d be able to resist that kind of temptation, did you?) and wow, yes, your writing has changed quite a bit. I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll save that for my next e-mail. Suffice it to say, yes, you are certainly capable of reconciling your recent adoption of gorgeous prose with effective storytelling. That said, I very much like your smuttier stories, too! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I love what you have to say here, about feedback from readers and writers being essentially different because of the different ways they approach reading the work of others. That strikes me as completely valid, and it just goes to show that there can be value in having beta readers who are just that, beta readers, but not also writers. On the other hand, though, I’d still want such beta readers to be people who like and enjoy reading the genre I’m writing; if they’re not familiar with some of the existing published work, especially the better work, then they’re likely to react to things in a very different manner. Can you imagine Tolkien being told “I like what you’re doing here, but there’s too many wizards and elves and dwarves in this story, and this ring of power idea? No one will buy it. I mean come on, it’s been three-thousand years since the last big war, and in all that time no one has invented gunpowder?” (This actually is an issue I have with most of the multi-millenial back histories of the big fantasy epics: their societies are essentially static, forever in the Bronze Age in technology, politics, and societal norms. But, I digress.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, absolutely. I have a handful of beta readers, but only a few of them actually read erotica and erotic romance. They’re avid readers, but not within my genre. I suppose that’s another reason to seek out online writing communities. I recently joined Absolute Write (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php) and can’t say enough great things about the breadth of writing and publishing knowledge available there. Unfortunately, their erotica workshopping forums aren’t super active, but their romance forum looks healthy. I’m still working up to 50 posts, which is the minimum to share your own work for critique, but it’s been really great perusing the different boards and interacting with everyone.

          Heh, sounds like you’ve got a big bone to pick with epic fantasy 😛 I can’t say much about it, since it’s not a genre I typically read, but that’s definitely something you could bring to the fantasy forums on Absolute Write.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, I used to ‘lurk’ on Absolute Write, but haven’t seemed to find time to go back there in some while. I recall some nastiness about the forum moderator banning people who didn’t think exactly as she did about indie publishing, or something like that, and got a little turned off. Maybe I’ll check it out again, though, especially now that I know at least one writer with almost 50 posts whose opinion I highly respect. 🙂

            I don’t really have any bones to pick with fantasy, though. 🙂 Just always found the trope curious.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Well, I’m only about half-way there, so no need to rush 😉 I haven’t noticed any of that sort of bad moderator behavior, so maybe it’s calmed down. I wouldn’t have joined otherwise. It’s one thing to have qualms about self-pubbing (or trad pubbing, for that matter; neither is without its faults) but closed-mindedness only serves to upset and alienate people, which is the last thing you want from your writing community.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. I absolutely love the phrase ‘purity of opinion’, and you’re completely right of course, that’s a perspective I hadn’t considered and one I now desperately want. I’ve had this discussion frequently with people, how there’s a difference between ‘good’ and ‘likeable’, always in the context of music though, and it usually comes down to the same point: being likeable is part of being good.

        I hope you weren’t too horrified by my older stories. I look forward to reading what you have to say about them, albeit with a grim fascination.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Heh, if you’re expecting a scathing review, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

          One of the reasons I like posting stories on Lit is that they have such a large built-in audience of readers who don’t write. Not to mention the relatively quick feedback—for better or worse. Sure, it’s a mixed bag from both angles (i.e. quality of story and quality of feedback), but garnering over 40K views on a single erotic short story is difficult to accomplish on one’s own.

          Likeability is definitely tied to quality, though some people would certainly disagree (probably the same people who bemoan anything deemed “too mainstream”). Stuff tends to become popular for understandable, if not ideal reasons, and I’m tired of people looking at me with sympathy in their eyes when I tell them I want to write professionally, always with some variation of the same sentiment: “It’s a shame that you’re going to have to compromise your artistic integrity in order to accomplish your professional goals.” Maybe I’m misguided, but I like to think that there’s a readership for every genre/category/flavor of writing, or, at the very least, a reader for every story.

          Okay, stepping down from my soapbox…

          Liked by 2 people

          1. You mentioned Literotica to me once before, and now I really do need to investigate this avenue. 40K views! Wow! That would seem to provide a statistically relevant level of feedback.

            Anyway, you’re on a good soapbox. There is *nothing* wrong with writing commercially viable fiction! Remaining obscure and not making any money doesn’t make you a better writer; it just makes you obscure and no money. Do *you* feel like your artistic integrity is compromised because you hope to actually publish and sell your work? No, I didn’t think so. Certainly there’s plenty of good fiction out there that never made its author anything, and there’s plenty of bad fiction that pulled in loads, but concluding from those unrelated facts that quality and success don’t mix is like observing that the divorce rate in Maine has declined in step with the rate of margarine consumption, therefore eating margarine causes divorces.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Well…let me caveat all of my Literotica praise with a few dissensions. While Lit has a huge audience, it also carries a slight stigma depending on who you ask. I’ve heard it said that some agents and editors won’t even consider an author who admits to having posted work there, or at the very least, will ask that they purge all mention of the site from their blogs, web pages, etc. The site itself is a mixed bag with a lot of poorly written stories and, some have argued, not enough oversight. Trolling is a legitimate problem. A couple of weeks ago, someone plagiarized a bunch of stories in the BDSM category and then mass submitted them to the site in order to push other authors’ work off the front page. Thankfully, the moderators acted quickly (after the issue was reported by multiple authors) and they’ve since been removed, but this kind of immature behavior isn’t abnormal for a site that allows anonymous perusing, commenting, and rating. My last story was hit with a barrage of one-star ratings by someone with too much time on their hands, though that, too, has been corrected. Troll comments are rather commonplace, too, though authors do have the ability to disable both ratings and anonymous comments. The thing is, doing so also cuts you off from receiving feedback from a significant portion of Lit’s readership, who don’t have accounts. Also, while I do list my blog in my Lit bio and see spikes in my reader stats when posting new material, I haven’t noticed much overlap between Lit story views and blog follows.

            That being said, I’ve enjoyed my time on the site. I’ve met some really great writers, received some wonderful feedback in the form of comments and private messages, and read some awesome stories by both aspiring authors and casual writers who simply love the genre and want to share their passion with others. I’m certainly not saying all of this to dissuade you from checking it out. I just want to make sure you have an accurate picture of what you’d be getting into. It’s a great place to post work you don’t intend on publishing anywhere else (besides your own blog), if only to receive some feedback, and I can speak for the BDSM category when I say that there are author-readers actively looking for new, talented voices to read and befriend. The community is somewhat shrouded, but it’s strong and welcoming if you look for it.

            Everything you’ve said about artistic integrity and financial success is, in my opinion, right on the money. I think there’s something to be said about authors adapting to the market. If one’s goal is to be a professional author, as opposed to simply publishing at some point in their lives, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that they would need to come at it from a more practical, businesslike perspective. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative or that you can’t write what you want. Even when we talk about “bad books” that rake in lots of money, I would argue that a lot of those authors probably weren’t setting out to write “crap that sells”. More likely, they just wrote what they wanted to write and it happened to be commercial. It’s more an issue of taste and being bitter that the masses don’t share your fantasies. Adaptability is key in any genre. Take Romance, for example. Paranormal isn’t quite as popular as it once was. So, one can either ride it out and stick with it if that’s what they want to do, or, they have the option of saying, “Okay, maybe I’ll cool it on the vampire fiction for a while and see if I can write something contemporary or historical.” Luckily, Romance has so many sub-genres that one can pretty much take their pick depending on what happens to inspire them at any given time. Sure, some might argue that it’s a good idea to build up a readership and platform in one area before moving onto another, but the nice thing about Erotic Romance is that it’s an umbrella sub-genre that then dips into all the other categories, i.e. Contemporary Erotic Romance, Paranormal Erotic Romance, Historical ER, etc. (I read an interview with Sylvia Day a few weeks ago and she was pretty adamant that sticking to one genre was a bad idea as a business tactic. She’s one of the best, so I’m inclined to give her opinion some weight). Basically, my argument is this: authors who are willing to adapt to the market AND expand their creative repertoire will probably have an easier time operating as both artists and businesspeople…in far too many words. 😛

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Yes, to everything you said here. 🙂

            Given that Sylvia Day has apparently been signed to multiple *eight*-figure deals for books yet to be written, it would appear that quite a few are inclined to give her opinion some weight. It would appear that she knows what she’s doing. 😉

            I read somewhere (but can’t find it now) that Kindle will soon track reading habits to the level of determining which pages or paragraphs readers stick on longest, which sections they read all at once, which they read fast, which they read slow, etc, all to give authors insights into which parts of their novels seem to work best, so they can use that information to craft their next novels better to reader tastes. Personally, I find it a little creepy to think that my e-reader will track that much about me, but hey, we crossed that bridge a long time ago when we agreed to let a giant commercial company have direct access into all of our reading preferences with these devices. I’m not exactly sure how that kind of information will really help authors hone their work, but I’m sure some clever algorithm developer will figure it out, if they haven’t already.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. I can see how some of that information might be helpful, but at the same time it really is more unnerving than anything else. I predict that lot of the patterns will prove to be highly predictable: of course readers linger on love scenes and speed through the climax (heh…).

            Time will tell, I suppose.

            Liked by 1 person

          5. I’d say that the current growth of the market and the ability to reach a truely vast potential audience means that there’s very little reason to compromise your artistic integrity.

            For nothing but my ego I did once total how many views the stories under my pervious Lit account had accumulated: it was about 200,000, across twenty stories, and 17 of them had a little red ‘H’. I think that’s is a pretty good indication that in the right market you can write however you like and you’ll still find your readers.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually started out writing very differently, science fiction many years ago, then tried my hand at thrillers for a while, but was finding it a hard slog. Two years ago I tried writing historical fiction, and that actually went pretty well, but I still never finished the piece I was working on (I wonder sometimes, though, as I still think I wrote some beautiful passages in it — it’s just that the story sort of petered out, and the research — oh my god, the research!). I had been reading erotic romance for a few years or more, but not really thinking of it as very serious — it was my guilty pleasure, in between other more ‘mainstream’ novels. Then it occurred to me that I was getting a lot of enjoyment from these ‘guilty pleasure’ books, and reading more and more of them (and finding a lot of not-so-good ones in the mix, too), and that’s when I thought, well, why not? They say write what you read, what you love. Maybe I should try my hand at this? That was just about exactly a year ago, and I haven’t looked back since. It turns out to be a LOT of fun to write, so that’s what makes me think I just may have found my niche. Also, since going ‘online’ with it, via the blog, and finding other such lovely writers as yourself, I found a very supportive community of like-minded writers that I don’t quite have access to offline, and this is even more encouraging. I’m sure similar communities exist for other genres, though.

    ‘Offline’ my friends and family know that I’m writing romance, but I haven’t quite brought myself to let anyone read any of it yet, as I don’t think they’re realizing how, um, explicit it gets. Obviously I’ll have to cross that bridge eventually.

    One reaction I get, though, is not so much about writing romance, but about choosing to go self-published and via e-books. The equation of self-publishing with vanity publishing still seems to be prevalent, although I’ve tried to explain that it’s a new world now and being self-published doesn’t carry the stigma that it did twenty or even ten years ago. Oh well, I guess results will (hopefully) carry that message for me. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, gosh! Yes, I can only imagine the amount of research that goes into writing historical fiction. Science fiction is a lot of fun to read and I have an idea for a sci-fi erotic romance that I’ve been toying with for a little while, but I’m not sure if I can—or even want to—pull it off. I’d love to hand it over to someone with a sci-fi background and see what they come up with, but most people probably prefer to run with their own ideas.

      I think ebooks and technology have played the biggest role in lifting the stigma around erotic romance, since they made it a lot easier to both acquire and hide the fact that you’re reading it in public (and private). Self-publishing pretty much busted the door wide open and the stigma has lessened, though I still encounter a lot of books that obviously haven’t undergone professional editing, and they make me cringe. I remember reading an article that outlined three things that all successful self-pubbed authors have in common: a professional cover, professional editing, and a decent backlog. I think you’re right in surmising that you’ve found your niche. I certainly enjoy your smut, and I’m sure that others will, too. How’s the Partners and Crime project coming along?

      Personally, I’m leaning towards trad pub because I like the idea of having an agent who knows how to navigate the murky waters, but I’m not opposed to self-pubbing. The hybrid model is really attractive, too, but all of this really depends on whether or not I find someone who thinks my work is up to snuff. I’ve been reading an agent blog, going all the way back to 2006, and it’s amazing to see how much the landscape has shifted in just eight years.

      Heh, yeah, telling friends and family can nerve-racking. My closest family members know and I have friends who are beta readers, but for everyone else, I figure I’ll tell them once I have a book on Amazon/in print (a girl can dream). Something like, “Hey, how’ve you been? I’ve been great. Just published a book, actually. You can find it in the erotica section. Yes, my mother does know. She’s very proud.” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, actual publication — and sales — quiets all the critics. Nothing says “respectable” quite like success. 🙂 “Yes, my mother does know. She’s very proud.” I love that!

        You seem to find all the best “industry” blogs that are helpful: Matthew Kadish, Nicholas Rossis, etc. Wait, did you lead me to Rossis? I can’t recall off-hand, but probably you did. I’ve also just received Kristen Lamb’s book “Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World” (http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Machines-Human-Authors-Digital/dp/1938848322/) and I’m looking forward to digging into it — seems to have a lot of good advice, from what I’ve garnered so far, especially around managing efforts spent on blogging and social media. Should go nicely hand-in-hand with Kadish’s articles. I’m following her blog, too, but haven’t looked at it in about a week or so.

        I’m expanding upon “Partners and Crime” pretty much as I outlined in my post with the poll, rewriting and continuing the story. I’m still not completely decided upon the eventual publication strategy — I’ll figure that out when the story is ready, it’s been through some beta reads, edited, cover made, all that — but I’m sort of thinking of it as something to just get my name out there beyond the blog, have something people can actually download and read (and review!), while I continue working on my novel.

        On that front, with “Switch” I’m pretty much throwing out the whole second half of what I’ve already written, not because the writing is bad, but because it jumps around and isn’t very coherent or cohesive. It really shows the effects of being written during five-minute “word war” sprints during NanoWrimo, lol. In retrospect, it doesn’t advance the story in a way that makes sense. The first half, though, despite also being written during Nano, I really like. I just need to re-plot where it goes from there and how it gets to the ending (which isn’t really changing, but will be reworked). So, a lot of work still to do on that front! And partly why I thought I could get a “quickie” out with P&C, just so I feel like I’ve got something out there (as long as it’s not horrible — that would not be helpful, obviously). As you said, all about having a backlist. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t think it was me who lead you to Nicholas Rossis, but I just Googled his name and will definitely be following him from here on out. Thank you for that. 🙂

          Kristen Lamb is one of the first bloggers I stumbled upon earlier this year when I decided to try my hand at fiction. I have a copy of “Rise of the Machines” on my Kindle, but have yet to do more than peek at it. I also follow Joanna Penn’s blog, The Creative Penn, where she posts podcasts with other “author entrepreneurs” and articles on self-pubbing and creativity. She’s also written some books on publishing you might want to look into (I just bought her book, “Business for Authors” and plan on tucking into it soon). If you haven’t heard of her, you should definitely check her out: http://www.thecreativepenn.com. HIGHLY informative, both from a technical standpoint and a personal one; she’s very open about her business model.

          Glad to hear “Partners and Crime” is moving along. I think you’re smart to hold off on making any decisions re: publishing before it’s finished. Even with all of our best intentions, the work tends to do what it wants. Sounds like you’ve managed to get some of the technical stuff figured out though, which is always good! I’ve read in numerous places that a debut author shouldn’t put all their hopes/eggs into their first book/basket and it sounds like you have very realistic expectations for the project, i.e. something to “get your name out there” while you begin to work on your backlist.

          Ouch. Sorry to hear about the drastic cuts re: “Switch”, but these things often work out for the better. “The Cabin” is unfolding in pretty much the same way: different paths to same ending, with many, many rewrites in between. Overall, it sounds like you have a good handle on things. Being willing to step back and scrap what doesn’t work rather than clinging to one’s efforts is half the battle. I’m about to go take a look at your most recent excerpt. See you there 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yet another great resource in The Creative Penn! I’ve just signed up and received my copy of the Author 2.0 Blueprint, and we’ll see where to take it from there. 🙂 Thank you so much.

            In so many ways, you’ve been one of the most helpful “buddy bloggers” I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know, if just a little bit.

            Liked by 1 person

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