By Shawna Eccles ’12
|Video: Shawna Eccles recites her poem, "Pyramids of Paper."|
"The skin I'm in doesn't define me."
As I looked out into the crowd, my hands began to shake and my mouth went dry. I looked over to my left where my classmates continued to cheer with my professor; the lights gleamed across my face as I spoke the words of my poem. I could not see the audience, but I knew they were listening; I felt it.
“Am I speaking too fast? Did I miss a word?”
My mind began to relax as I spoke every word I wrote, hoping it was all being taken in by at least one person, and it was. As I uttered my last word to the crowd, the applause was deafening.
I skipped away with a smile, only to be called back by the host to take a second bow. I once again surveyed the audience filled with unfamiliar faces and the friends I met over the last three weeks on the Semester at Sea Enrichment Voyage. It was the greatest experience I had on the short-term study abroad trip I was taking; or so I thought.
Later that day, as I came to my cabin, I saw a note stuck to the door. I looked up and down the hallways to see if anyone was there. I grabbed the note and retired to my room where I began to read. I noticed the cursive writing was asking for a meeting and saying how lovely it was to have heard my poem.
Then I looked to the bottom and noticed the signature: “Rita Dove.”
After responding to the note and picking a place and time, I was sitting with a world renowned poet — a former U.S. poet laureate — soaking in every moment of it to reminisce later in life.
When I stepped on the vessel we would be on for the next three weeks, I never planned to recite one of my poems, and, when I did recite one of my poems, I never planned to be sitting with Rita Dove.
I never planned to tell her my passion for poetry, which started in junior high school. I also never planned on continuing this passion throughout my college career or being invited to recite original poems at clubs in New York City and events on Plattsburgh campus.
But one thing we know is life never goes as planned, and, according to a poet I once knew, “organization kills inspiration.” That is an original quote I live by, and it has remained true throughout my life.
Coming from Brooklyn, N.Y., and growing up in a Caribbean family, I learned that life is short, and you should spend it doing something you love. Writing poetry has always been something I love; leaving my thoughts and feelings on paper and sharing them with the world gives me a feeling I can’t explain but would never want to give up.
However, for a while, I did give it up; this year was my senior year in college, and I alerted everyone on campus that I would be taking a break to focus on my studies. I also shared this with Mrs. Dove who gave me great advice: never give up something you love.
If you grow tired of reciting, that doesn’t mean you should stop writing. She also told me I should learn the difference between writing for the page and writing for the stage.
My poems were always meant to be recited and many times I had a set amount of time to write a poem and memorize it before an event on campus. It became an act instead of a written piece to be recited and, at some points, I felt like I lost my inspiration, finding it hard to finish a piece.
Mrs. Dove encouraged me to continue writing poetry because my biggest fan and critic will always be myself. She told me that I don’t have to finish a poem in a day. Some poems took her years to finish.
Poetry may not be my entire career, but it can be something I do in my spare time.
I shared my dreams of someday writing my own book of poems, and she encouraged me to do so. She also shared with me her contact information and that of friends she has in the city who can give me feedback on my poetry.
Speaking with Mrs. Dove will be an experience I will never forget, and I did take her advice to never give up writing poetry. I graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh this year and will be attending SUNY Albany in the fall for my master’s. But no matter where life takes me, I will always write poetry because it is my passion and something I never hope to lose. I said I can’t explain how it makes me feel, but I can; it makes me feel free, like a … dove!
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