This blog post was written by Girls Write Now Second-year Mentee, Daleelah Saleh.
My poetry has always been deeply vulnerable, because it’s always been my form of coping, of sorting out my scattered thoughts and feelings. So when I was asked to be an impromptu poet at Lenny Letter’s Second Year Anniversary Party, I had conflicting feelings. I love poetry with all my heart, almost as much as I love all things related to girl power and feminism (both things included in the Lenny Letter Party). But the thought of having to create a piece of writing for someone on the spot was incredibly nerve-wracking.
My poetry has only ever been for me. I found myself asking, What if they don’t like my stuff? What if I freeze on the spot and create an awful poem? Plus, how would I write a poem in the span of five minutes? I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I’ve often found myself sitting in front of my laptop for hours, writing and rewriting something because I want it to be just right (case in point, I started and restarted this article about ten different times).
Despite all my worries, I decided I would take the offer. It’s just one night, I told myself. At worst, I’d write a few not-so-great poems, hopefully get to see Lena Dunham, and have a fun night surrounded by my fellow Girls Write Now mentees and alumna, who would be writing impromptu poetry alongside me.
The Lenny Letter Party was held at the Jane Hotel, and my first thought when we got there was this looks like something right out of a movie set. It was absolutely gorgeous. Once we walked in, we were introduced to Jacqueline Suskin, creator of the Poem Store, who is magical in that she has made a living for herself out of doing what she loves: writing poetry and interacting with people.
Jacqueline spends many of her days in farmer’s markets or parks with her typewriter, which she uses to create impromptu poetry for people based on topics they give to her. Over the course of an hour, she taught the other Girls Write Now mentees and me to do the same. She showed us how to use a typewriter and we practiced writing impromptu poems with subjects that we made up for each other.
The first practice subjects I worked on included the words “sunrises and change,” and I completely froze. In the back of my mind, I had an idea of what I wanted to write, but doubt started to creep in. I sat there, with my fingers poised above the typewriter keys for what felt like forever. “Just write whatever comes to mind,” Jacqueline told me after a minute. So I cleared my head of all the voices telling me I couldn’t do it, and I did it.
I typed out: “Sunrises and change/go hand and hand//They both require willingness/to adjust.” I pulled the paper out of the typewriter and read my poem out loud. The response wasn’t expected: it was met with praise. Everyone agreed that my poem was really good. I read it again, to myself, and I realized—they were right. There was something magical about letting the words flow from me, instead of thinking so hard about them. I felt a surge of happiness go through me. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
However, when it came my turn to man the typewriter station during the party, my anxiety bubbled up again. It was real this time. Real people, probably a few celebrities, would be coming up to me for poems, and they might not like what I wrote. I took a deep breath. You’ve got this. Just write what comes to mind, came Jacqueline’s voice in the back of my head. I’ve got this, I told myself. And so people came up and gave me subjects, and I wrote. The more poems I wrote for people, the more in love with it I fell. It was hard to tell who was happier by the end of the night: me, or the people who I wrote poems for, who each said my words resonated with them.
The Lenny Letter Party ended up being, hands down, one of the best nights of my life. In addition to being an incredible experience, it taught me a few life lessons that take many people years to learn: Be willing to go with the flow, and keep an open mind. I didn’t think I’d be any good at impromptu poetry, but I ended up falling in love with it because I was willing to take a risk and go outside my comfort zone.
This was my first time writing poetry that wasn’t meant for myself, and because of that, I got to experiment with different writing styles and subjects that I would not have otherwise. Even more gratifying, though, was the way people’s eyes lit up when I read the poems I wrote for them.
I realized that being vulnerable in my writing doesn’t just mean using my poetry as a place to spill my innermost thoughts. It also means being willing to share a piece of myself with someone else, by giving them my words to keep; and that’s one of the most beautiful gifts I can give.