I started writing poems and songs when I was very little, there are funny family photos of me at 3 years old on a mic, with a keyboard guitar, singing my heart out. I’m still singing my heart out in new and compelling ways that make me want to get up in the morning but there are plenty of mornings they don’t warn you about in high school, in university, in the corporate world – mornings where you face the page wondering what’s the point of it all?
I often wanted a manifesto like the small one I’ve assembled below when I was just starting to get published and I was performing my works to brand new audiences who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, when I was doe-eyed and overwhelmed by the opportunities around me, when I thought I would implode if I didn’t write, when my poems felt like fireworks blowing up across the page. I had no idea how threatening a young poet could be to people who had taken a very long time to establish themselves, I had no idea how threatening an opinionated young brown woman could be if you placed her on the world stage, and I definitely had little idea that I would have to learn how to be that person and to safeguard my heart from the rushes, falls and bursts of life.
For someone who speaks up often, I still find it takes all of my strength to separate the life my work has taken on by itself and the woman who stares back at me in the mirror. I have allegiances to spirits, I have faith in the education that encouraged me to become a critical thinker, but I also give myself permission to challenge my critical thinking, to close read texts and sometimes to just read with total unquestionable joy.
I’ve made it because I always knew what ‘it’ was for me – my mother was the first poet in my life, she used to read her poems to me when I was a girl and now I read my poems to her and that feels richer and more brilliant than all the gold in the world. My brothers tell their English teachers that their sister is a writer and they share their stories, speeches and poems with confidence. I open my book and there’s my grandmother’s dedication, she travels all over the world, something I knew she always wanted to do when she was alive. My cousins and my friends feature heavily in my works, they are a new history alive and breathing, inspiring beyond words. My parents are passionately on this journey with me and they always will be, that’s more than enough for anyone to say about their craft, and now and then my poetry performs little miracles of its own accord like the wonderful translators, publishers, editors, producers and artists brought into my life purely through my writing. The family of people around my words are the real creations of my works, an abundance of special characters that I couldn’t have written better myself.
1. On making new worlds with your bare hands: don’t stop to consider this one
2. All kinds of people will walk into your life, it’s not your place to mend or keep or hoist or canonise them
3. Mix with minds that challenge you, if you find yourself in the company of the cooing/ nodding variety.. move on
4. Take a good look at your lover, are they an intellectual exercise machine? (be honest)
5. Feel things, put them on the page, look at the page on different days, look at the days on different pages
6. You are as good as you think you are
7. Poetry is art, expect (pray) that not everyone will ‘get’ it
8. Make friends with visual artists, they can see the scenes that you can only feel that they only wish they could articulate – win/ win friendship
9. For each great project have a list of great people to bug on the days when you feel defeated and blue
10. The tutor who harshly marks your writing isn’t the be all and end all, one day you will hit your stride and it will be effortless. In between, do yourself a favour and watch funny films, get lots of fresh air and spend time perfecting family recipes
11. The best days have a day after and the worst days do too, the day-afters are gifts to start again.. and again
12. Write from your gut, your gut is unrepeatable, your experiences are historical one-off works of art waiting to be written
13. Read a lot, feast on the classics, dive into different kinds of poems often, challenge the part of you that pulls away from certain forms, you don’t have to love everything but it pays to be informed
14. There is nothing ordinary about your life, nothing that could be improved or diluted, you have everything you need to be great.
© Courtney Sina Meredith 2014
4 thoughts on “Letter to a young poet”
I feel this is a letter to us all… bravo darling!
Yes, you’re probably right mama, a letter to the whole wide world 🙂 xx
So much of this isn’t just about writing, but also about the richness of living – I love it Courts, it’s going on my wall x
Thank you Vivian, that means a great deal to me, much alofa to you x