On Not Reading

I have a confession to make; I am guilty of one of the cardinal sins of writing.  I started writing poetry in middle school, but did not start reading poetry until college.  That’s right, I was one of those students—the bane of creative writing teachers—I wanted to write without reading.

These type of aspiring writers have recently gained attention, as shown by The New Yorker and the Salon articles.  And as someone who has taught a couple of creative writing classes, I understand the frustration that a teacher feels when an aspiring writer rejects the best tools for learning to write—reading.  After all, why would someone want to write if they did not enjoy its results ?  Isn’t it hypocritical of someone to want others to read their work, if they are unwilling to read the work of others?

Through middle and high school I filled journal after journal with bad poetry.  I had things I wanted to say, and I enjoyed the way line breaks allowed me to play with rhythm.  However, I did not read poetry.  This was in part because most of the poetry I was exposed to was from school textbooks.  I was only familiar with the sweet floral verses of Dickinson, the two or three over-read poems of Frost, and the tedious Wordsworth.  The poems that were selected to be in the textbooks were safe.  What PTA mother would challenge “I floated lonely as a cloud”?  Some of the more daring teachers, particularly the one who got me writing poetry, introduced us to the Beat poets.  I never connected with the poets presented to me, either they were too stuffy or they were from my parent’s generation.

I took to writing because I had stories to tell and ideas to share that I didn’t see any of these poets writing about.  I think there is much worse reasons to write than realizing no one is telling the stories you’re interested in.

It was only in college that I discovered the poets who wrote about my interests.  Once I discovered them, I became an avid reader of poetry.  I suddenly knew where to look.  Hell, I remember my shock when I came across some of Dickinson’s sexy poems.

While there will always be those egotistical students, who feel they have something important to say and can’t be bothered with what others have said, some students may have simply not found the right author.  They have a type of story that needs to be heard. And since no one else is telling it, they are endeavoring to tell it themselves.  Maybe instead of condemning them for not reading, we should take a look at what they are writing and point them in the direction of similar stories.


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