WHY I WRITE ~ Karen Head
Why do I write? Good question because writing is pretty shitty business. Lots of people imagine writers living the glamorous life; you know, being on Oprah and all that. However, the actual day in/day out reality of writing is anything but glamorous. It is hard and solitary work, which is why most people have the good sense not to do it. While my friends are out at the movies, or drinking martinis :-), or wasting time (I mean networking) online, I am facing a new blank page that must be filled. It’s my job. And, yes, my friends do work (many of them very hard), but work stays at work, and, frankly, they make lots of money for their efforts. So, I correct myself: writing is not my job, it is my vocation.
Writing is also a world filled with rejection, even if you are good. For every poem I submit to journals, I get about twenty rejected. It took me three years to find a publisher for my most recent book, Sassing, and then I waited another two years to see it in print. This year I have given dozens of readings. I have not, however, sold dozens of books. I like to tell myself that poetry books are a luxury, and in this economy people cannot afford such things. Deep down I know that this explanation is fiction—something I wish I could write because more people read it.
When I was six, I began writing poems. Each week I would ask my mother to mail my poem to the editor of the children’s art page in the local newspaper. Every Sunday, I would be disappointed when my work had not been selected. After almost a year, I finally found one of my poems. It is the only piece I’ve ever written that I can actually recite. I include it here for its first publication in 37 years.
Brownies are very nice,
although they play a lot,
they also work
and I should know
because I am Brownie
as you can see.
My other love at the time was scouting, hence the topic. What makes this story more than a quaint bit of nostalgia is the admission my mother made when I was 27. Apparently, she hadn’t thought much of my poems, didn’t think they’d get published, and so she hadn’t actually mailed any of the previous entries. Despite being able to use this information to guilt my mother when I need to, it was really a great early lesson; mom did a good thing without realizing it. Ill-informed though I was, I made the decision (at only 6!) to write no matter what, and that commitment has carried me through all the rejections, the solitary times, the hard work.
So, back to the original question: I write because I have something to say—something that poetry can help me express in ways that exposition cannot. I write because I hope that what I say will resonate with at least one other person. I write because not writing would be on par with not breathing. And just in case Oprah happens to read this, a little glamour would be welcome, especially if it gets a few more people reading poetry.