Becoming A Poet: Belonging

Even though I practically slept in the computer lab on campus so I could write, I still wouldn’t call myself a poet. I didn’t own a laptop. Real poets looked cool, spoke cool, and wore cool shoes– not to mention they were mega-talented and mysterious. Real poets were bold. Would you be surprised to know that I still struggle with being bold? I’ve been reading and writing for almost twenty years and I still experience intense kfreeperiods of self-doubt. My nervousness threatens to overtake me every other time that I share my work.

By way of my creative writing classes, I’d discovered the reading series on my campus. A reading series is where a group of writers of various genres visit (usually a school campus) at specified times throughout the semester to read their work. A UA’s reading series, I heard the work of fiction writers, poets and creative non-fiction writers. Harryette Mullen (a black poet) came to U of A to read her poems and she was the first black (established) poet I’d ever met in person. I don’t remember our conversation but I remember her signing my copy of her book and as Maya Angelou would say, I remember how she made me feel. She made me feel as if I were already part of the writing community I desperately looked up to. She made me feel as if I already had what I wanted.  At that same reading I met Joel Brouwer, who would become my mentor and thesis advisor when I entered grad school. It was the first day we’d ever met, but he lent me a copy of “Sleeping With the Dictionary.”

I mentioned the awards I received during my junior year in an earlier post. That spring they were awarded in a formal ceremony. My parents and family surprised me by driving up from Charleston, South Carolina, to attend the event. After I received the awards from the creative writing department, Sandy Huss took me aside and said the words that would change my life: “All of the faculty here awarded these unanimously. If you apply to the MFA program here, you’ll definitely get in.” The “MFA” she spoke of was a Master of Fine Arts—in creative writing. An MFA was an opportunity for me to finally devote my life and learning to the art of poetry. There was a place for me. There was an opportunity to do exactly what I had always loved and needed to do. Poetry had never been my side-chick. It had always been the love of my life.

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