At the start of the fall semester, I walked into my first creative writing class with my heart beating rapidly, excited to learn how to improve my poetry.
It was the first class I had taken where my poetry would be on display for others to critique, and the thought of a stranger reading my writing and hating it was terrifying. The class required us to share our poetry with both the professor and our classmates, the latter of which would share their thoughts with us directly in person.
I’ve been writing poetry since my senior year of high school, and with each year that has passed, I have grown to love it more. Poetry gives me the freedom to share my deepest thoughts and feelings without any restrictions or constraints.
My poetry often focuses on moments, telling short stories of meaningful experiences with others that have significantly impacted me. I’ve used writing as a means to process everything from past breakups to the loss of a loved one, with every poem feeling like a time capsule of special, personal moments.
But sharing such intimate experiences, ideas and emotions with others put me in a vulnerable place in front of the strangers in my class. I was afraid of pouring my heart into a piece of writing, only to have it be judged, critiqued and maybe even hated by others.
Although my classmates didn’t hate my work, they had a lot of notes I wasn’t prepared for.
Many of the comments were things I’d expected already — an overuse of alliterations and repetitive word choice.
But one was largely unexpected: the form and structure of the writing was generally stoic and standard, they said.
I knew exactly what they meant. Often my poems would be organized into paragraphs and stanzas that were simple and predictable. My writing was expressive and creative, but the structure was boring and unimaginative.
It was a hard critique to take, and I tried to visualize how I could tell these stories in more interesting and inventive ways. When that didn’t come to me easily, I felt disheartened and ended up abandoning my poetry for some time.
My main way of procrastinating work was watching Netflix, and the show I’d almost always go to was “BoJack Horseman,” an animated comedy about an anthropomorphic horse who used to be an actor in a ‘90s sitcom. The show is absurdly funny, vibrantly animated and, at times, painfully heartbreaking.
What I love most about the show is the way it tells stories, often in unique, imaginative ways I’ve never seen before. One episode features little to no dialogue, whereas another episode is almost entirely comprised of just one single monologue.
One of my favorite episodes, “Time’s Arrow,” tells the life story of a woman diagnosed with dementia, and it utilizes abrupt time jumps and randomly glitching characters to portray the condition.
Creatively, “BoJack” was everything I wanted my writing to be, and it was so inspiring to me as a writer struggling to take more creative approaches.
The show’s writers do a marvelous job of experimenting with their form and structuring their stories in unexpected ways. They don’t limit how they can tell stories by resorting exclusively to traditional, linear forms.
So, why should I limit myself?
There are so many special moments in my life I could tap into, and the innovative writing of “BoJack” pushed me to tell those stories in the most unique ways possible.
The first moment I chose to start with was a breakup, and I decided to tell the story backward, something up the “BoJack” writers’ alley.
I organized the poem into a backward list, starting with the feelings I had after leaving my ex’s car and ending with the moment they said our relationship should come to an end. I chose to tell that story in such a different way because it’s how I’ve come to process it — the emotions I had afterward stick with me a lot more than the actual act of breaking up.
I decided to name the poem “time’s arrow” to pay tribute to the episode that inspired it.
The form of my poem felt unique, expressive and interesting. And my classmates, who read the poem weeks later, felt the same way.
It was so exhilarating and rewarding to hear those positive comments when I’d struggled so much to find my voice, and in doing so, ended up producing something I was genuinely proud of.
I was amazed by the work I was able to produce after being inspired by an animated show about a talking horse.
My creative writing class became less scary after that. Sure, it will always be unnerving to read someone’s criticism of your work, but I feel more confident in my own poetic vision than ever before.