I am a sheep/goat/ram in the Chinese Zodiac.
I love how a word conjures up an image, a sheep being someone who follows docilely behind. A goat is a stubborn being who eats everything in sight. I think of the massive trucks that lumber down Denver freeways, RAM emblazoned on the grill, some vehicles so high off the ground you'd need a ladder to climb inside. As an animal, they are anything but passive.
It is entertaining to consider zodiac qualities, to ascribe our personalities to being a sheep or a Gemini. No matter the influence of the planets or our biologically determined
dispositions, our human identities are formed early. The child is smart, cute, talented or awkward, shy, precocious. We get our clues from family, from society, and we learn instinctively to merge those given qualities with those of who we truly are.
Who are we truly?
This question is possible in the West, because we have the time and opportunity to mull it over. Since the 60's, people have opened the door to consciously consider who we might be, and how to live our lives in accordance with the self that lives beneath the surface.
The more we dig, the more we circle back and around to that self that does not change and does not move from center. I call it the core self. It is who we are when no one is looking, when we are simply being. Although we appear to change when we are angry or infatuated or simply tired, that core self doesn't waver.
That core self ought to be at the bottom of the well we dip into when we write. Anything else will give us superficial images, insincere platitudes. It is not a matter of craft, it is a matter of honesty.
Editing poetry at Tiger's Eye Press, we often found that a fresh untried voice was preferable to poetry written appropriately, neatly, cleverly. That a poet learned to write what easily appealed to the masses, meant little to us. It wasn't even originality that held us, but the sense that the writer was being honest with us. That they were putting something REAL on the page, a part of themselves that made them vulnerable.
As I ease away from the editing and move into my own writing, I too have to consider what works and what is real. So easy to write nine words across, twenty lines down, to give an editor the look of their journal . . . just the right amount of white space. But is that my poem? Was that even my idea? How deep did I go into the well to find it?
It is a new year. The year of the dog. I feel the weight of it, the weight of saying something that matters. 18 years of editing and reading and considering the words of others. If I'd seen how this course would slow my own career down, would I have done it differently? Maybe. Maybe not, because where I am now is exactly where I want to be. Who I am at the core has never been more relevant to the writing.
A poet is at his or her best when pretense is dropped, when the voice that whispers to write just another poem on the wind is quieted. Let the year of the dog be the year we write from our core selves and submit work that speaks our vulnerable human truths.
Who are you in the Chinese Zodiac?
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."