Headfirst into the picture window – Risk in Writing

Just as we finished eating lunch today, a varied thrush flew with great velocity into one of the large windows at the front of our house. We ran to the porch, and I watched as my husband hovered over the quivering bird which grew still. One moment a miracle of flight and the next obliteration. It shook me up to see those feathers splayed on the worn boards of the porch, the indignity of the position, the speed at which the bird ceased to be a bird and became instead something silent and leaden.

This afternoon, I’ve been considering that moment – alive/dead, a threshold one can cross in a flash. I was raised in a house of caution, of no running or you’ll fall, of stay away from high places. My life has been lived mostly at two extremes – full-out risk or completely buttoned-down safety. My writing career has traveled on a smoother continuum. I started out with safe poems. Oh, not safe subjects, but well-contained, relentlessly crafted poems. More and more, I write full-bore towards the dark end of the hallway. Not safe subjects, not neat endings, not tidy, not well-contained. My work is more ragged, even those poems that I’ve chosen to revise (and revise, and perhaps revise again).

I’m afraid to admit that I got published more often with the safe poems. This new work is having a harder time finding a home. Perhaps that’s because it’s not as good, not as thought out, not as polished. Perhaps because it’s more difficult to get a firm grasp on. Perhaps it’s been the luck of the draw. Hard to say.

So here’s the conundrum – do we write into risk, lean into that scary edge, and produce writing that may or may not work, but is certainly not well-behaved, OR do we write safely, prune and prune away to closure, end each poem with a hearty voilà?

Or is there a place somewhere in the middle that does not include the dangers of the picture window? I like to think I’ve found that place in my personal life, but in my writing life? There are certainly a lot of windows out there.

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