Write a poem in 250 characters or less! (Or, let me tell you about my impostor syndrome.)

Last year, I wrote a poem for Button Poetry’s Short Form Contest. I liked the poem I wrote, though it didn’t win. It later became “Unrequited,” and I’m quite proud of it.

As of last year, I’d never entered any of my creative writing into any contest, ever. Not even in college, when I sat on the editorial board of a literary magazine and could have easily, albeit not entirely fairly, included one of my pieces in the publication. (I wouldn’t have done that. I promise.) I’ve always been timid about my own work.

I realize that I have major impostor syndrome. I’ve never published anything, and I’m terrified to submit my writing to agents and publishers. I’m always far more impressed with what I read from others than with what I write myself. I feel, often, like my creative work is clunky, dull, trite, and uninspired. Not always, but often. It can be discouraging, maddening, and sometimes, debilitating.

To be clear, I’m not looking for sympathy. I think this is a battle many creative people fight every day. Some days, I win. Some days, I…stare at a blank screen and procrastinate and (not infrequently) cry, and I definitely don’t win. But on the good days, when everything comes together, I feel like I’ve made magic, and that keeps me working – through the fear, through the doubt, through the impostor syndrome. And I see that you can’t be an impostor in your own life.

The Short Form Contest requires a submission of 250 characters or less. That’s characters, not words. It can be a poem on its own, or an excerpt from a larger piece. When I discovered the contest last year, I felt…I don’t know, compelled to enter. 250 characters? I wouldn’t feel that bad being rejected over 250 characters. Very few people can do something amazing with 250 characters, right? And so, I entered the contest, knowing my poem wouldn’t be selected, and I felt good. It felt amazing just to put something out there.

So, I entered again this year, with a poem inspired by one of my mom’s favorite books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. (I’m helping my mom start her own business, and she was on my mind.)

I like my poem less than last year’s, but I put it out there, because why not? And I feel good. Maybe I’ll enter some other contests this year, or even submit work to some publications or agents. Maybe this is the year. We’ll see, and until then, I’ll keep writing. I hope, if you’re struggling, you keep writing (or creating whatever you create), too.

Oh, and if you want to read the poem I submitted this year, here it is. Enjoy!

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You should have known

I am more than the wings you tried to clip

I am more than meant to fly

You should have known

I am too much to trap and tether

and you are too small to try

Seagull 6

Fireflies

Every year I wait for the fireflies

and for the summer nights when

they flicker in the trees in the woods behind my house.

I call it my own light show, though

I know they don’t shine just for me

and I don’t have the heart to catch and hold them

in jars on my shelf,

to keep their sparkle and make it mine.

So I wait for them and watch them

for as long as they’re here.

And when the days get shorter and the nights get colder,

when they disappear,

I remember that all things in this world will come and go.

Nothing is forever. A hard lesson, learned over and over again.

I can’t hold on to the fireflies,

but I can watch them

every year.

Tree lights

Little Things

Today I will dust the china.

It is the smallest

something

I can do when I am powerless.

I have said goodbye this year to:

Family

Friends

Routine and Work

and Feeling Safe.

I have said enough of goodbye this year to fill a book with just the word,

over, and over, and page after page.

I am tired of goodbye.

So today I will dust the china, because I can,

because there is at least a little power in little things.

And perhaps, tomorrow, I will weed the garden.

China

Beautiful Things

April is both kind and cruel

That’s often the way with beautiful things

A warm sun that cradles and an icy breeze that cuts

Soft petals that delight and sharp thorns that draw blood

Honey lips that hide a poison tongue

It is only privilege that allows us to see one without the other

Spring flowers 2

 

Unrequited

You asked me once,

Do you love me?

and I said,

Yes, I do.

What I should have said was

You are a beautiful dress in just my size that doesn’t fit

on purpose.

I should have said I never learned how to love something

that didn’t hold me too tight

and make me beautiful in all the wrong places.

Hearts

My Grandfather’s Guitar

My grandfather’s guitar sits in a corner of my study
untouched, gathering dust.
When I was young and he was already old, it could pull notes straight from the air
through his fingers and into my ears.
I can hear them, though he is gone and his instrument’s gone quiet.
When I was young, not even ten,
he’d pick it up and start to play and then I’d go still,
stuck to one spot until he was done.
My grandfather’s guitar in his hands made magic, but I was too young to understand
that music is magic made real for a moment.
A fret and a twang and he’d made something that didn’t exist before
and wouldn’t again.
I sometimes imagine myself back there, wearing muddy tennis shoes with tangled hair,
just listening.

I can hear it, but no song ever sounds the same twice.

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