I don't know if you know this, but for most of my life, I've been a fighter.
Let me clarify that, at least on the physical level. For the past 35 or so years, I have practiced one form or another of martial arts and/or boxing. For me, nothing is more inspiring than a heavy bag and a room full of heat and music with a hard beat. I also love the dance fight of Capoeira, the flamboyance of Taekwondo, and the exactness of Karate. I have learned so much from practice and discipline, and none of it didn't change and form who I am as a poet. And there, perhaps, the other kind of fighting. Also literal, for certainly we fight for our words and our right to speak, but also a bit metaphorical as lyrical taekwondo looks a little different on the page.
I'm not going to give you the rudimentary "How Poetry (or Writing) is Just Like Kickboxing," for it is perhaps too simplistic. But what I was thinking about this morning, practicing cat stance and five hundred kicks, is not just how sore (and incredibly strong that makes my butt), but how much you have to want something and to have to give and to be ok with discomfort. Because writing does require all of those things, and failing, and standing back up--and so many times, you are not facing an actual opponent but yourself. And you are not being challenged by a coach; you are challenging yourself. I now, fortunately, live in a time and place that is relatively safe. There have been very few times in the past decade when I thought I might have to defend myself or another physically. Still, I keep up the practice and the challenge, and even on days when I would like to do anything else, I tape up my hands and fight shadows, my past, a lifeless bag, the inevitability of future. And I love it. I have never regretted a workout.
And when I am showered and fed, I sit at my computer and bring my hands alive again. Punching words out. And sometimes, it is against a very real threat. My hands now fight for the rights to my body, democracy, against hate, for equality, for public land, for wild beings--and sometimes against my shadow, my past, and for a future. To the page, I bring the discipline; and to the practice, the learned moves and the energy.
Today, my coach said, "I don't care about anything but your passion. All I want to see is your passion." And somewhere, I found the next gear and landed a series of punches that gave every last bit of what I had. Passion. Maybe above everything else, that is what moves us and what we have to continue to call forward. It's the gasoline on the fire. It's what makes us come back, again and again, to fight whatever beautiful battles we take on, even those within ourselves.
"We have to be uncomfortable; it's how we grow. How are you going to leave this ring? Under or over the ropes? Over. If you finish on your knees, I'll know you gave it everything."
I wasn't born punching (or poeming). I worked really hard for this. I put in weeks, months, and years of training. And no one can ever take that away. No one can ever take my poems away.
Some of the best poems are written on the hardest days. The hardest days are when we often bring the most passion.
Here's to being on our knees together. Me, right beside you, fighting for a dream.
P.S. The song that got me going today... Rag'n'Bone Man - All You Ever Wanted (Official Video)