Everyone's a Critic

A few years ago I mentioned to my mom that I had this fantasy where I would sit down with a big canvas and a palette of paint and discover that I have been harboring a latent talent for creating huge, beautiful pieces of art that would grace at least the walls of my own home, inspiring guests to widen their eyes and ask where I got such a great piece and then try to contain their surprise and envy when I tell them the truth that would make them so jealous they could hardly breathe, but would finally breathe, but only to say, “Wow,” because I would be so nonchalant when I would say with a slight dismissive wave of the hand, “Oh, I painted that.”

That was the fantasy.

That Christmas, my mom sent me a bunch of painting supplies, and I sat down and, well, I guess I would have to say I painted. Technically, that's what I did. Squeezed paint onto plastic plates, mixed colors, used brushes to transfer colors onto canvas. The first piece was this curvy, abstracty design, and I kind of liked it. So I tried a companion piece, but gave up halfway through because the design was awkward and the colors reminded me of throw-up. Next I tried a flowerish picture that ended up awfully pink and girly and like something a seventh-grader would make. Only worse.

So if I'm honest, I'm not good. My husband at the time claimed to like two of them, and even though I knew he was probably just being nice, I secretly hoped his liking them meant there could be some modicum of talent there. Somewhere.

I'm not a poet. I'm not even sure I'm a writer. But I know that I'm better with words than I am with paints. And it's not like I'm completely ignorant; I am a teacher of English, after all. So I know about form and meter and sound devices and imagery—I don't even have to look up alliteration or iambic pentameter or enjambment or slant rhyme; I actually know what these are. Impressive, right?

So, when the mood hit me a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a poem. And then I wrote another one. And then I revised them. And I kind of liked them. Actually, I kind of liked them in a different way than I kind of liked the first painting I did. I felt that I had written something that, well, said something. And I was deliberate in my diction. And I was precise about stanza length and line breaks. And I paid careful attention to assonance and consonance and the connotations of the words I chose.

And a couple of people claimed to like the poems, and even though I knew they were probably just being nice, I secretly hoped that meant there could be some modicum of talent there. Somewhere.

So I posted them to a poetry workshop website. There were five levels to choose from, where the lowest level was for the very amateurish poetry and the highest was for big boy stuff ready to be published in big boy books. I read some of the poems at each level, and the reviews and criticism, and all the tips and advice for newcomers.

Level One was home to poems you find on websites where anyone can post anything. You know, the kind of crap fifteen-year-olds rattle off in their notebooks during math class about the adolescent angst they cannot name and the depths of which others can never hope to comprehend:

When you came into my life
You ended all my hurt and strife
I knew the day I met you
You would always be my Boo....

After reading enough of these to kill off as many brain cells as one loses drinking a box of wine, I made what I thought was a well-informed and justifiable decision: I submitted my poetry to Level Two.

Imagine my surprise when, approximately 30 seconds (that's 30 seconds, not minutes) later, I received an email with a canned message saying, “Hey, moron. You think you're an intermediate poet? Wrong. You were supposed to post in Level One. Get a grip, Shakespeare. You suck WAY more than you think you do. I, Mr. Moderator, was able to determine with a mere glance at your verse that you have absolutely no idea what you are doing, and furthermore, that you have a highly inflated sense of self. Did your mommy and daddy tell you to dream big and that you can be anything you want to be? An astronaut? A doctor? Even the president? Well, they lied. Because I know Level Two poets, and you, sir, are no Level Two poet.”

That's a paraphrase, of course, but accurate in terms of message and sentiment. It's been a week now, and no one has bothered to critique my poetry. I guess it's just not landing over there. So I'm working on something new, something more relevant and modern, something that will elicit the kind of high-level critique that I hope will catapult me to Level One superstardom and put me on the path to Level Two where the real poets live. I've just gotten started, but I think the beginning is strong:

When you harshed on my art
You really broke my heart
It meant a lot to me
But you said it just can't be
I didn't think I was Level One
And it sucked when you made fun
From your bullets I want to duck too
But really I just want to say....

This is all I have so far, but when I'm done, I think they're really gonna love it.

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