By Kim Goldberg
November 23, 2014
People often ask me if I will read some of their poetry and tell them what I think of it—whether it is any good, how they can make it better. Sometimes they even offer to pay me for this. I always decline these requests because:
No one but YOU can truly answer that question about your own creative manifestation (although many will gladly try). To let others do this to your work (worse yet, to seek it out) pollutes your creative stream and thwarts your development of a unique and authentic voice and vision. If YOU are happy with what you’ve created, then it’s good. If you’re not, it isn’t—keep working it, or abandon it and start fresh. (Believe me, nothing is ever really abandoned. If it was meant to be part of your output, it will reappear somewhere down the line.)
There is no good or bad poem in any absolute sense. It is all subjective, all someone’s opinion. Let that opinion be your own, not someone else’s. That is the source of your power. Don’t give it away. A phone book can be made into a good poem if you’ve got your mojo working. It’s all about your coherence of vision, your conviction, your unwavering belief in yourself and your creative powers, your ability to think laterally, to reach a little farther, to dig a little deeper, to generate a new word or image or phrase instead of larding in the first cliché that presents itself, and to listen to your own instincts. If you feel your poem is good up to a point but derails in the last stanza, then guess what? That’s the part you need to work on. Or cut.
You will only get better at listening to yourself, trusting your instincts, honing your own powers of analysis, when you throw away the crutch of asking others what they think about your work (or worse yet, paying them for their opinion/instruction/mentorship). And even then, even after you have thrown away the crutch, you will still have the problem of those opinions being offered by others unbidden. Learn to avoid it, sidestep it, shut it down. It will only contaminate your creative stream. This holds equally true for praise or criticism. For to whatever extent praise from others elevates you, their negativity or indifference will deflate you.
Worry more about what YOU think of your work, and less or not at all what others think of it. As we say in Liuhebafa: Don’t be Wild Horse Chasing Wind (the wind of outer world distractions including the opinions of others); be Lying Tiger Listens to Wind (the wind of your own inner breath).