For the last week and a half, my AP Literature class has been reading Counting Descent, a collection of poetry by Clint Smith. Mr.Smith is originally from New Orleans, and much of the poetry details growing up as an African American, and how it’s affected him and altered his viewpoint on the world. He doesn’t shy away from topics such as racism and police brutality, but discusses them in a way that is both respectful and eloquent. Several of his poems made me stop and think, and he made me change the way I view certain things.
I fell in love with his writing from the first poem I read. It was beautiful, it was eloquent, and I loved the way he took something so ordinary and turned it into something that was deep and meaningful and thought-provoking. I can’t count how many times I would finish a poem and then just stop, because I was so touched and moved by what I had just read. I loved every poem in the book, and I highly recommend it to all of you.
Not only did we get to read his poetry, but this morning, we were able to Skype with him. He was awesome. Talking to him felt like talking to one of my teachers, (which makes sense, he used to be a high school English teacher) and more than once, our whole class cracked up at something he said. He was funny, he was real, and he was honest, too. I loved getting insight into a few of my favorite poems and into his writing process. Of course, being the writing geek I am, I asked him what advice he has for aspiring writers and poets. “Read,” he answered. “Read everything. Novels, poetry, nonfiction, short stories- read it all. And,” he added, “allow yourself to be bored every once in awhile.” He said that every once in awhile we need to put our phones down, let our thoughts flow uninterruptedly, and simply take in the world around us, because inspiration can be found everywhere. I loved that advice, because I feel like so often we’re so engrossed in a text message or Taylor Swift’s new Instagram post or the latest SportsCenter update that we miss out on what’s going on around us. And oftentimes, the little things are the most important.
As much as I enjoyed getting to ask him that question and receive his advice, my favorite part of the video chat came at the very beginning. A friend asked him how he got into poetry and spoken word, and his answer nearly brought tears to my eyes. He told us a story about how, not long after he moved to New York City, he heard a woman with cerebral palsy give a spoken word poem. He said at the time, he didn’t know much about CP, and listening to her not only changed his perspective on it, but it made him want to do spoken word, too.
He heard a woman with cerebral palsy. A woman’s poem about her CP changed his perspective on the disability and made him want to do spoken word. A woman with cerebral palsy.
I was overcome with emotion because the woman he heard did with her poem exactly what I want to do with my writing: impacted his life and showed him what life with cerebral palsy is like. She’s a living example of the power sharing your story has, and hearing Mr. Smith’s story only made my desire to publish my book grow stronger.
The thing is, while my book is labeled as fiction, much of it is reality. My characters are based off of the people I love, and while I’m not yet strong enough to walk with crutches on my own, a lot of what my protagonist experiences are things that I go through. Because of that, some scenes aren’t easy to write. I’ve cried, I’ve written with knots in my stomach, and I can’t count how many times a voice in the back of my head has whispered, “No one will read this. It’s nowhere near good enough to be published. Why would anyone want to read about your experiences in the first place?”
But I write through that self doubt and I write the scenes that hurt because somewhere within me I know that one day, those scenes will be the scenes that touch someone. Those scenes will be the scenes that inspire someone else to keep fighting whatever battle it is they’re fighting. Those scenes make my book real, and I think that reality will (hopefully) impact, inspire, and touch thousands of people.
Hearing Mr. Smith’s story about the woman with CP reaffirmed that hope. Though I’ve never met her, she inspired me to keep writing and sharing my story, because she’s living proof of how that can affect someone. I’m glad she shared her story, because Clint Smith’s slam poetry (and all of his poetry) is incredible. It was amazing to talk to him, and if you haven’t read CountingDescent, you should. It’s beautiful, and will quickly become one of your favorite books.