Poetry as Gift-Giving

By Oliver Brooks

One extra gift that the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic bestowed upon me, beyond the usual social isolation and mask-wearing, was a particularly tenacious case of writer’s block. How shameful to have more free time than usual, yet no work to show for it, I thought.

When I saw The Kudzu Review’s spring 2021 deadline closing in like a crouching cat, I knew I wanted to submit poetry, but all I could produce were slips and scraps of poetic lines I liked but had left by the wayside for months. Even if not for the writer’s block, I had my classes to think about. But excuses aside, I wanted my poetry to go somewhere, and poems would not write and submit themselves.

So I wrote.

I wrote a poem every day for weeks, inspired by a remembered anecdote of a successful Beat poet who for years relentlessly produced whole poems daily. Despite my persistence, I considered most of what I wrote utterly worthless. Among the drivel, though, were two or three poems I culled down that, with some editing, I could see going places.

The poem I had the most hope for was a totally fictional piece about my very real sister. Living alone and with zero face-to-face human interaction, I thought of her the most while enclosed in my tiny two-room apartment for the long, empty months of isolation. She was 15, and her birthday was approaching. There was a considerable chance that I might miss it due to the pandemic or my own health issues, and among the gifts I could think to give to her were words – words that would make their way to her even if I could not. A poem can be a gift, a love language, a fist tightening around memory. Because of my goal to submit that prodded me to finally start writing, the poem that I produced was all of those things.

Separated by three years and three hundred miles, I hoped to reconcile the disparate lives of my sister and myself in the poem. Like a biomythography, I reimagined our family history and invented the dialogue I wanted to foster. Even though she was, I imagined, a high school student among the cliques where poetry is “uncool,” it was the only way I could convey my thoughts adequately, thoughts I was unaware of until I sat down to write.

Somehow, I beat the submission deadline and decided to shoot my shot. It was only after I made it home safely to celebrate my sister’s birthday and give the poem to her that, to my surprise, I learned of my acceptance into the journal. By then, it felt like an added benefit of the writing process that had brought me closer to my family.

If you, too, are a poet and have your own poem fragments buried deep in computer folders or squirreled away in the recesses of some spiral notebook, as safe as it may feel to stow your words in the shadows, it can be equally gratifying to steer them out into the light. I hope some poets use Kudzu’s submission deadline as an excuse to get back into writing, and to leap the tallest hurdle of all: getting started. With no submission fee or Submittable account needed, there is no reason not to share the words within you as a gift to the world, or even just to the people most important to you.

OLIVER BROOKS is an undergraduate student at Florida State University where he is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing. His work has been published in Florida Southern College’s Cantilevers and FSU’s The Kudzu Review. As an editorial assistant of poetry at Kudzu, he cherishes all things writing-related.


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