A month ago, I stood up in front of my seat at a banquet table, fumbling with two folded pages I’d concealed in my purse, and began to read my aunt a tribute poem at her semi-formal birthday party. She was shocked and so was I.
It was the first time anyone had heard me read an original poem publicly in about six years. It was the first time I’d written a poem for someone, without being asked, in nine years.
Afterward, there was the typical surprised, but positive response:
“I heard you were a writer, but I didn’t know you could write like that!”
“That was beautiful!”
“You really captured her personality!”
I smiled graciously, offering a single, deprecating nod and a sincere, “Thank you.” Then I thought to myself, “I won’t be doing this again for a while….”
It isn’t that I mind reading poetry aloud, now that I’ve decided to resume writing it. It’s the writing on commission or in tribute that presents a bit of a problem. I’ve always found writing poetry for hire (or by special request) to be a bit schmaltzy. When someone asks me to write for a wedding, a funeral, a baby christening, a family reunion, or a birthday party, spontaneity is sapped from the experience and all that’s left is obligation and a list of mannerisms and personality traits to describe in eight or fewer stanzas.
This isn’t always a bad thing. Having a creative skill that other people admire is an honor, and being able to write something sentimentally resonant for friends, family, or strangers is nothing to sneeze at.
But seeing my work printed in an event program or hearing it read by a member of a wedding party or listening to myself read it semi-impassively for a paycheck just makes me feel like a mascot. And I always wonder if the people listening think the free verse I’ve written is any different than poetry made entirely of rhyming couplets or those acrostics we used to write in elementary school.
A is for awkward.
There’s also something a little artificial about writing for people you don’t know well. You wonder if you’ve worked in all the information their loved ones wanted to you to mention. You worry that you haven’t captured their essence accurately or thoroughly enough. It can be stressful and disheartening. It’s never fun.
Fortunately, writing for my aunt’s party was another story. It came as a complete surprise to her and no one knew I’d worked on it. So there was no pressure, no expectation. No one hoping it would rhyme and no one wishing it sounded more like the poem I wrote for their relative two years ago.
Are you the go-to poet in your social world? Have you experienced my angst? I’d love to hear about it.
And if you’d like to read Stacia’s poem for her aunt… please do.