What I Learned from a Masterclass Ad

Well, looks like we’re embarking on our fourth week of quarantine. There has been a number of thoughts on my mind (among which is the ceaseless craving for food) so I better jot them down.

First off, I think I’ve already failed my goal of trying to post something here at least once a week. And while I know there really aren’t any valid excuses given the loads of free time I now have, let’s just say it’s easy to lose motivation without the strictly regimented bustle of “normal” life, by normal I mean pre-quarantine.

But even so, I have made some strides in my quest to work on my writing during this period. Currently, I’m working on a poem. I have the basic skeleton in my mind of what it’ll be about but I’m still chipping at it, playing with the words and structure. Knowing myself and my writing process, I’d say it still has a bit of a long way to go but I have to say, in all my stints in poetry so far, I think this poem may be the one I like the most. And I think that’s in large part due to the fact that I’m slowly beginning to feel more confident in writing poetry. I know it was hardly two weeks ago when I was agonizing over my incompetence at writing poetry in my last post, but since then I’ve come to realize that poetry doesn’t have to be all imaginative or about super abstract stuff. I can “get every detail right, describe everything as how it happened.” And I have the liberty to make my lines as short and crisp or long and winded, it just depends on one’s writing style.

Discovering Billy Collins’ poetry was really what brought me around to this realization, to pierce my previous misconceptions. And the funny thing is that I found out about him haphazardly when I came across one of those Masterclass ads that recently have seemed to swarm YouTube out of nowhere. I wasn’t planning on listening, as I’d rather not drop a hundred dollars on some online class, but I couldn’t help but stay for the duration of the whole ad because I was just so captivated by his humor and the quiet beauty of his words. When he said, “This is what poets are paid for; I mean to look at clouds, watch chipmunks. Someone has to keep an eye on these things,” I could only say dang.

I immediately googled his poetry and found to my surprise that they weren’t outright explosive or wrought with tension, not like Ocean Vuong’s or a lot of the poems I’ve read in literary magazines. His poems were about common, everyday things like nautiluses and jealousy and his language didn’t consist of crazy metaphors. One of the comments under the Masterclass ad even referred to him as a “milquetoast.” And yet, there was this slowly unraveling, slow-cooking explosive feeling I’d get reading his poetry. I mean, something definitely had to be there, otherwise he wouldn’t have been a U.S. Poet Laureate.

I can’t really put my finger on what makes it so good. Was it truth, or wisdom? It was a bit like reading a story or memoir but a lot shorter, and at a slightly different pace. I know Billy Collins isn’t the one and only authoritative source on how to write poetry, and that watching a single Masterclass can only take me so far, but it was a start and he showed me that I don’t need to go groping around in the super abstract and deep realm to write poetry.

Armed with this revelation, the words came a lot easier as I worked on my poem. I’m hoping to finish it sometime this week, given that this week is fortunately spring break. And I know if I truly want to improve my poetry I’ll just have to keep reading lots more poetry and writing loads more.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes,

Jooce

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