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  • Mandy Whyman

I say `YES!'

Writers are fragile creatures. Easily frightened, those of us tentatively weaving a writing identity fall into two broad categories: first are those who think that their words are wonderful, no matter what anyone says and then there are those who think their words might possibly be wonderful, but every hurrumph, every criticism, convinces them that they are not good enough.

I fall into the latter category and I know I am not alone. I have written for as long as I can remember and I know (because it was my job as an English teacher to know) that my writing isn't bad. So why is it that I want to run away as soon as anyone says `your poetry is a bit personal, isn't it?'

Actually, at this point, I must mention (hold a grudge, who me?) a critic who said exactly the above, but then went on to extol the virtues of a rapper who rapped loudly and explicitly about personal tragedy.

`Wow!,' the critic gasped, wide-eyed, `this is powerful stuff!'

So where am I going wrong?

Is it that my experiences are not impressive enough? Or am I not as good as the rapper at expressing myself? My logical (slightly teachery-fied) brain says `no' to both. The answer is more likely that I don't write the sort of verse that that particular critic wants to read. And maybe that's ok. There are millions of readers in the world, ergo, millions of different takes on what is personal and what is not.

(`..and by the way,' says the snippy voice in my head,` poetry is, by its nature, personal.)

On a recent morning, driving back from collecting my click-and-collect Tesco shop (yes, all very middle class), I stopped at a roadworks long enough to watch a burly man taking his tiny dog for a walk. The dog, a little white thing, was about as big as the man's foot. As I watched, the dog stopped to sniff at a bush. The man tugged on the lead. The little dog, tiny as he was, dug in his heels.

The large man said something to the very small dog. He tugged again.

The dog didn't even deign to look at him.

It dug in with all four feet and pulled as hard as it could to have a good sniff, as if saying: `I said Yes!'

The traffic lights changed and I drove off, but the little dog and his determination stuck with me.

Maybe its time that those of us who doubt ourselves, pull hard against the negative pressures of those who seem bigger. If we just believe in ourselves, it is probable that someone else will too.

So next time someone I hear `your writing is a bit personal,' maybe I will just say `Yes!'



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