My favorite places on earth are bookstores. However, it didn’t always start this way. When I was a child, I had a mother and a grandmother who spent hours in bookstores leaving me to my own devices in the kid’s section. I remember the excruciating boredom and I was always perplexed at how they could want to pile on as many books at the cash register as they could manage. Finally, as an adult, I get it. I can’t stay away. I always ask myself why I do or feel the things that I do. I think I may have figured it out. Once I got past the playful childhood stage, my passion became words. It was always there in whispers and I can even hear it in the recording of my three-year-old self reading nursery rhymes. Still, why do I have an obsession to the point where my walls and shelves cannot contain the volumes I have? Yes, books open up your world, but my addiction goes beyond this.
Walking through the familiar aisles in search of more titles to tantalize me, it hit me: I read to write. I am an avid reader, but I am first and foremost a writer. I would probably crumble if I did not keep writing. I have always reached for books that are written well. I am thoroughly disappointed in books that do not utilize poetic writing. An author could have the most fascinating plot and characters, but they do not interest me unless the language is juicy. One of my favorite books is God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Besides my mild obsession with India, I devoured this book because she managed to take the most exciting words in the English language and put them in never-before-seen combinations. The way she wrote made me look at things differently. In fact, I will never look at orange pop the same again and will probably never drink it…ever. The reason is not because she told me about the abuse one of her main characters suffered in the name of an orange drink. It was because of what she showed me through the senses. She wrote it so well that I now have an association with that event and that drink as if it happened to someone I know. This is the power of good writing. The old writerly advice, “show, don’t tell” isn’t just there to drive writers crazy. It is there because it will affect the writer to the core, if you are able to master it.
Kim Addonizio, in her book, Ordinary Genius, puts it bluntly when she says, “if you don’t read, your writing is going to suck.” Books are your best teachers if you want to be a writer. No mentor on the planet can help you write well if you do not read. I am applying this to myself when it comes to poetry. I consider myself a poet, but I am a major slacker when it comes to reading it. I do struggle with re-visioning a poem, so I am taking Kim’s advice and reading every poem I can get my hands on. Many times, I hear myself chanting that I wish I could write like them. Eventually, I will. Eventually my poetic voice will override what I have read. However, I will have carried pieces of their mastered voices into my own craft.