I have a poem in this chapbook.
Because I’m not a poet, I had to look up the definition of chapbook.
“A chapbook is a small collection of poetry, generally no more than 40 pages, that often centers on a specific theme.” (Writer’s Digest)
When the call for poetry submissions was posted by Margaret Rozga, a Wisconsin poet with a national reputation, a long time college professor and advocate for social justice, I hesitated. I write a blog, I write essays. My genre is creative nonfiction. I’ve written some things that were structured on paper to look like poems. But were they poems? What is a poem?
To me, a poem is an economy of thought, an idea distilled to its cleanest, sharpest expression. But beyond that, I know nothing about poetry. It is a lane I never drive in. So I hung back for that reason. Who am I to submit a poem for a chapbook?
Then, I hung back because of the topic. The chapbook’s theme is Dontre Hamilton, a man shot and killed by a police officer in broad daylight in a downtown park. Mr. Hamilton had been sleeping when he was rousted by a police officer, an altercation ensued and he was then shot more than a dozen times. He died. The police officer was later fired but was not prosecuted. Out of this tragedy was born the Coalition for Justice which is the sponsor of the chapbook and recipient of proceeds from sales.
So then I was challenged not only by the writing of a poem but by writing a poem about this event. What gives me standing to write about Dontre Hamilton? What in my experience as an older White woman would equip me to write well, to have an economy of thought that would be meaningful?
I didn’t know. I just started. I let myself go. I wrote a poem. And then I sent it.
After several months, I got word that the poem would be included. And today I got the chapbook in the mail. My poem, “Dear Starbucks Barista” is on page 8. It sits, looking like a poem, sounding like a poem and reading it, I remember how the poem traveled from its beginning to an end I’d not envisioned. That’s what happens when words decide to arrange themselves.
So yesterday, a friend on Facebook expressed her frustration with wanting to express herself with art but feeling blocked by self-criticism. This hit home with me and so I wrote a comment on her post. I thought of my comment today looking at my poem in this chapbook, remembering how I thought I shouldn’t and couldn’t.
Art of whatever type requires exposure and risk to be worth the effort. It has to say something that is profoundly true for you. When you center on what it is you have to say, the hesitation will disappear and the saying of it will take over. I know this from having waited a long time but not waiting anymore.