Words of My Father

Today's Saturday Morning Blogroll post on BestBlog features something I found clicking on the "next blog" button. It's a collection of a man's poems, posted one at a time by his son, who found the poems after his father died.

Something about this site, Words of My Father, really gets me. A writer's chances of being heard by great numbers of people are not that great. Most people who write regularly do it because they find pleasure in writing itself: writing helps us organize our thoughts, and writing challenges us, and it allows us to remember and store up what we care about. But in the back of every writer's mind is some question about whether we are reaching anyone. We write in part to connect. That's what language is for.

Part of the landscape of the writing life is the possibility that you, like Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole (who wrote the very funny book a Confederacy of Dunces before he committed suicide), may toil in obscurity but nevertheless achieve great posthumous fame. We all have visions of someone finding our carefully sewn books of poems (or our jelly donut stained manuscript) and, well, the rest is history. The idea behind these kinds of stories is that good writing endures and good writers may have to spend their entire lives alone with their words but if they are good enough, they will be brought into the light.

What I've never considered, and what this site — Words of My Father — makes me realize, is this: there are plenty of people who care about our writing right now. Before we're pushing up daisies. It's just that sometimes they're standing so close to us — in the next room doing the dishes or in the garage changing the oil — we don't notice them or don't think they count. But they do. This was true of Emily Dickinson, who did send her poems out while she was alive, to an audience who didn't quite get her. And although she had a pretty active social life, someone had to make it possible for her to spend so much time alone, sewing up her books, writing her poems. And that person must have respected her work enough to give her that time. And although I couldn't say for sure, I'll bet you anything that at least his mother knew John Kennedy Toole was up to something interesting.

You may not be perfectly understood, but people do know and respect your effort to write well. They'll talk about it with a friend, or they'll be inspired by it to do some of their own. They'll read what you post without telling you they've done it. Or they'll hear you tapping away on your computer or see you chewing on your pencil and feel lucky to know somebody who loves to write. And on places like WordPress, they will find you by just clicking around one morning and stopping, and recognizing a kindred spirit or a new voice. These people are our family and our friends, and they are the best audience I know.

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