This is the advice given by Earl Braggs in my workshop. "Write the poem that is impossible to write." It's good advice, since it tells us to stretch beyond the boundaries we have imposed on ourselves, and discover just how good we can be. It's good advice also because it gives us permission to fall short without feeling like utter failures. I know I've felt that way when I've failed to capture what I was after, and wanted to exchange my pen and paper for a hammer and nails and do something else, because I was obviously never going to be a good writer.
I have taken this challenge on, in spades. There is a poem I have always wanted to write, and have shied from, because it's too massive a subject. I will undoubtedly get it wrong. But it burns in me, it keeps me awake, and it niggles at the edges of my mind when I should be concentrating on other things, like how much detergent to put in the washing machine. I want to write an epic poem that captures the voices of women across time, imparts the pride, pain, joy and suffering of women of all colors and backgrounds, and would make each of us proud to stand and recite it. I even have the title: Womansong. probably not terribly original, that, but it encompasses what I want to capture.
I've made a first pass at it, this week. I like parts of it very much, other parts I'm not certain about. It moves through history, but I'm feeling rather shamed for having the hubris to say I can speak for all women. Others have, so I don't know why I'm so reluctant to do so. Should I call out places by name? Should I set it all in the present even though some of the happenstances have passed? Moving back and forth between tenses was annoying me when I re-read it, and I want each of the women that the poem evokes to be alive, so present tense feels more natural for that. Do I have too many biblical references in it? Does the poem lose potency when it's as long as this (currently four pages)? Most of all, who have I left out? I think that's the one I'm most afraid of. I can cull pieces if I must, but I don't want to leave something out that's essential.
I have the feeling this one is going to be a work-in-progress for a very long time. As well it should be, I suppose, for such subject matter. And despite all of my misgivings, I'm pleased to be writing it - writing an Impossible Poem means that it's an important poem. Maybe there is no 'right' way to write such a thing, but acknowledging that it needs to be written - and that yours might be the hand to set it down - is an important step.