Only God Knows Why


Poets Alone Should Kiss and Tell

I would like to begin this post with an apology.  I have always been told that you shouldn’t start a presentation with an apology, but since this is a screw you to everything I have been told about how I should be creative, here it is.  I have no way to talk about this, but coming straight from my extreme emotional side.  This is not a cognitive, statistically balanced, academic review of my education.  Parts of it come directly from my dark, angry, spiteful side.  And yes, it is here, but I am still sorry for it.

I have always told everybody who would care to listen that I would give up absolutely any ability I had in order to have a talent for the visual arts. 

Every time any pencil fuzzier than a HB comes near my hands, or heaven forbid, a paintbrush, my hands transform before my eyes into two giant lumps of steak.  Tell them that pencil is for writing or maths or building a giant pencil tower to conquer the world and — zhoooommm! Back they go to giant slabs of meat with opposable thumbs.  It’s a strange phenomenon, but I cannot draw in any fashion.  And I really, really wish I could. 

I know it’s somewhere in my blood, my grandmother trained as an architect.  So I have always blamed myself, or this mysterious ‘lack of  talent,’ that I utilize to explain any manner of sins, as the causes of why I’m not gifted in the fine arts. 

(Let me tell you now, while I do not consider myself in any fashion a gifted writer, I more strongly believe that writing, fairly, cannot stake a claim as a  fine art.  There is nothing refined about writing.  Poetry alone is a bloody battle, an ever enduring fear of exorcising your demons lest they’re the ones with the talent and not you.   Let alone the fucking rest.  Prose is the bastard child of the ideas you thought you had and iambic pentameter is just a technical fright.)

Anyway, whatever meagre understanding I had of my mother tongue, I was willing to trade for a chance to vomit my synapses on a canvas.  But no matter how hard I tried in art class, nothing brilliant would come.  I scraped by with very average marks (read: very, very average) and quit as soon as I could.   My decision to quit was not driven by the worry that I was on a runaway train to nowhere but rather the strong awareness that my train was already in the siding and I was just sitting in the drivers seat shouting “Toot Toot!” like a child, at the bemused onlookers who could see I wasn’t going anywhere.

So I was left with the acrid taste of methylated spirits, strong self-hatred and regret.  Why the fuck wasn’t I born with the ingrained talent to be an artist?  Isn’t wanting it badly enough?

This continued up until very recently, a friend pointed out to me – No, actually.  No, it isn’t.

And so she summed up a problem with the arts education I had encountered that even I hadn’t been able to see.  Nobody had ever taught me HOW to draw.  Why the hell should I be able to?

As a child, I had been allowed to experiment wildly within the art room, and then suddenly, at age 12, I was being assessed for what I was creating – and mind you, falling very short! Where was the bit in the middle?  It seems akin, to me, to doing dot to dots your whole life and then being sat before a quadratic equation. 

When I read back on the accounts of those who had used sketches to historically document their travels (for example Charles Darwin) I couldn’t help but notice they all described being taught HOW to do this sketching.  In my school, only those with innate ability had excelled in the arts, because nobody had ever showed the rest of us the mechanisms. 

Even the arts educators I encountered themselves, seemed to regard creativity as something mystical that children either do or do not have, that is born but not created. Anybody that did not possess it was to be tolerated so long as it was compulsory.

Fast forward through high school, where I found an absolute love for the written language.  I had two absolutely brilliant English teachers, one at the beginning of high school (Mr. King) and one at the end of my school career (Dorothy Allan) who couldn’t have given me a greater love of poetry, writing and textual analysis.  They equipped me with the ‘how’ skills and moreover gave me the confidence to step out a little farther down the creative ledge.  I would like to give my love and thanks for giving me the tools for me to grow a part of who I am. 

 I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life but write.  My friends concurred and told me that I was a born writer. (I, obviously, still argue that I was a taught writer.)

The natural thing to do was to continue my education in the creative field of writing at university.  I had always been nearly hypographic in my passion for writing.  I loved to play with my language like an impassioned kitten, looping it around my pen and flipping it off my tongue. 

Everything that happened to me was channeled into a written piece.  Words were my natural way of relating to the world, in relationships and friendships I’m known for being extremely verbally affectionate and playful.  (Despite my love, my work is technically marred by many things, but especially by my petulant love for long sentences.)

The only natural thing to do was follow this obsession to higher education. I went into a Media and Communications degree, where my grasp on my creativity was snapped short, like a rib piercing and deflating my lung.

One day I gave a less than impressive oral presentation where the topic was a theoretical cultural analysis of something I felt passionate about.  After the presentation, my lecturer called me over and told me how disappointed he was in me.  While I had given my theoretical explanations adequately, I hadn’t been able to convey the feelings that surrounded why I felt passionate about the topic I had chosen. 

He told me that he had expected so much more, and that he was very disappointed.

By way of explanation, I said something along the lines of “I didn’t feel comfortable sharing in a speech my feelings with this group of strangers.  It’s very difficult.”

And he said to me: “Well, what are you doing here, then? You will never make it in this industry.  You should consider changing degrees.”

This man broke my heart.  My life, littered with words and a playful engagement with my language had forming into dreams of becoming a writer and now this was halted in its tracks.  I retreated further from my writing degree into my science major and my personal work began to dry up.

The harder I pushed against it, the more I couldn’t think of anything to write.  I was desperate to show myself that I was creative, that I could still write something.  But I was literally left staring at blank, white pages.  

My second piece of poisonous advice was delivered to me from the lips of a person I thankfully can’t remember the identity of.  After confessing to being unable to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or eyes to Scrabble or even dictionary to Boggle – this person told me

“Writers write.”

Whatever I had kept secretly stashed in the bottom of the well of my creativity was dried up.  All I could hear in my head when I went looking was:

writerswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswrite

writerswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswrite

I would like to say a very big:

FUCK YOU

to whoever told me that.  You insidious, snide, shameless prick.  I came to you, with my heart in tatters, and you pushed me back against the wall I was chained to. 

I still, to this day, hear this phrase in my head when I can’t write.  You may notice I haven’t posted in a week, and I think that is definitely what has brought this back to my mind.

After this, I picked up my degree, quit learning guitar, stopped writing and moved to France for six months in order to finish my degree there.  Returning home, I took six months off to try to write again.  After all: what did I know about writers?

writerswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswrite

writerswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswritewriterswrite

I reached near panic when I found that I had ground to a halt.  Whatever ephemeral ability I had possessed had disappeared from my grasp for no reason.  What everybody had told me was absolutely true.  I wasn’t made for this industry and whatever skill I had, I had either run dry or just reached a higher peak of demands that I couldn’t satisfy.

After all – my lecturer had told me that writers were born, should come into a degree with an innate ability for spewing their feelings upon strangers, and I didn’t cut it.  And even after some more all, I had also been told that writers, by definition must write. 

Even more than stopping writing, I began to believe that I wasn’t creative in any way.  I couldn’t create anything original, of worth.  Creatively, I was at my lowest point.  I had gone into a higher education institution asking to have my passion honed, inflamed by knowledge, and I had had it beaten out of me.

So I toiled away in absolute despair and wrote the worst shit I have ever written.  Even the poetry I had written before this time was curled up in the burning eyes of my contempt and largely (literally, physically) destroyed.  I didn’t write anything for 6 months.  I wasn’t a writer.  After all, writerswrite.  (Remember?) 

Until I heard Paul Dempsey (the lead singer of Something For Kate) talking on Triple J about how you don’t always have it.  Sometimes it’s a struggle.  It took him four years to write his solo album.  He’d struggled with writers block.  You just gotta relax and let it come to you when it wants to.

Well, fuck.  One of the best lyricists I could think of had long periods where he couldn’t write.  Where was he a year ago?

I immediately put myself in a self-designed program for writers that have been broken.  A remedial literature program.  I started writing about very well defined things: cd reviews, gig reviews, press releases.  Nothing I (or my newly internalized lecturer voice) could berate myself about my lack of creativity for.  They had strong structure, I just had to plug my words into them.

Then onto things that I was just doing for fun: a comedy podcast with my very good friend, and all round nice guy Ben (at www.insaneramblings.net), writing some sestinas for a friend for fun.  Eventually I got around to writing some more serious poetry, but only recently have I been up to letting myself get back into working on writing.  I’m still here, just blogging and writing for fun, not caring about the quality, letting my confidence grow back slowly.

As a final fuck you to that lecturer, I wrote him into a poem about the problems that face young women and presented it at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2009.

If there’s one thing I wish I could tell people who are in charge of fostering creativity in children that you wield absolute power, and the power to absolutely corrupt.

I would like to point out my experience with arts educators has also been positive, and there are so many excellent teachers out there.  The two I mentioned above, two of my friends who are training to be, and will be the most excellent, engaging teachers, and my very brilliant podcast co-host’s mother who lent me the book that gave me the title of this post and is just the most wonderful drama teacher, mother and human being.  These aren’t the only brilliant arts teachers out there but they are the ones who have touched my life.

To the others, I would just like you to know how vulnerable and tiny a child’s sense of creativity is.  It is your responsibility to grow, tease out, stroke, give confidence to and allow to be playful, the creativity of children who come to you, begging to give the world the inside of their mind.

And to this particular man, who told me I wasn’t made for this career, I would like to show you the depth of the bile I have percolating for you.  Perhaps I wasn’t made for this career, perhaps I am not meant to be a writer.  I don’t know.  But I came to you, gasping with the desire to hone my passion, and you stole it from me, and you beat it out of me with your lack of confidence.  You taught me to see myself as you did.  I know that it’s not easy in the world of the arts, and I have suffered a lot of rejection since then that I have been able to take much more easily.  I know you were trying to show me how cutthroat it can be. But come on bitty, it was your job to teach me, to give me the confidence to grow that resilience.

I hope that other educators and arts students can learn from my experience and realise that you don’t have to be born into something, sometimes you have to be shown how.  And you don’t always have to have it, right there, waiting to be utilized.  I have, at best, the weakest of grips upon my creativity.  I have to let it come and go as it pleases.

And, again, to my lecturer friend, here is my poem, where you are immortalised as a paragraph in a theme of the struggles of the young woman as an artist.  You aren’t the only part of society that makes things difficult, but you in the privileged position to teach people who are passionate and eager to learn and moreover, you should know better.  Enjoy your part, after all: Poets Alone Should Kiss and Tell.

Five Phantoms

I ate dinner with five phantoms,

At a gothic table set in a large dining room,

Each one with his mouth open wide in silent keening,

With his eyes hungrily roaming

On my young skin, lips and tongue. 

 

One phantom – so obviously my missing pedigree,

Neatly devours my fleshy legs,

Using the correct forks,

And makes polite conversation (always careful to avoid politics and religion)

Over a meal of inert tibia and fibula bones

Sucking out marrow on his way to my hips. 

 

My second phantom: a mute,

Deathly pale, beautiful, silent and smug,

Uses his thin skeleton’s fingers

To plunge deep into my thick abdomen.

Returning victorious,

He holds high between his bleached white finger bones,

A deeply brown womb,

And breast

For him to devour

By pressing them to plump, bloody lips. 

 

The third,

Clicking celebratory toasts with the first,

Lectures nimbly to the others on the nature of politics, rhyme and —

Verse.

He took for his collection, rather than for feasting alone, my larynx, throat and diaphragm,

Rapping me across the knuckles,

With his beautiful gothic cane

When I squirmed to get free. 

 

And of course number four,

Who I could not forget!

Came with great ceremony,

And although he was the last to arrive,

With a gold toothed sneer

That terrified both one and three,

Held my head in fingers manicured neatly by oriental girls,

And ate my brain

Licking my skull clean. 
 
 

And my fifth. 

Ah, the fifth!

The one whom I love and of whom I am most afraid.

He does not touch the food.

The fifth, my dear, is you!

The silent, delicious, terrifying, hooded figure of which I know nothing,

But who continues not to touch the meal at all.

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1 Comment so far
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Oh my gosh! that is actually one of my favourite poems by anyone…..ANYONE. its sooooo beautifully dark. i love it.

Im always amazed by your talents miss smith. 🙂

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Comment by Natasha




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