Prioritizing your Passion: Lessons from Sandra Cisneros and the Dodge Poetry Festival

In October, I attended the Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest poetry event in North America, as part of a field trip through HVCHS. The event is held biennially at the Performing Arts Center and the Downtown Arts District of Newark, New Jersey. My day was spent listening to current poets give advice regarding an artist’s craft and, more importantly for myself, how to manage the lifestyle and mindset that comes with the writing industry. 

Months later, I find myself remembering the light and airy voice of Sandra Cisneros, whose radiant yellow glasses spoke to her spunk and candidness. Widely known for her piece “A House on Mango Street”, which I had read in middle school, I appreciated Cisneros’ nuanced insight as a well versed author. So often, “success stories” across varying industries urge children to chase every opportunity and possibility, with a spirit that emulates Wayne Gretsky’s famous quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

Throughout adolescence, this phrase has been a hallmark for adults tasked with assuaging children ridden by fear of failure and daunting rejection. Considering the steeped competition of the creative industry that poetry encompasses, I was prepared to be met with similar recommendations from Cisneros: urgent warnings to produce and to publish, similar to how I had been tirelessly convincing myself that You’re still young. Why not enter this competition? And that one. And the other. 

I was astonished when Cisneros declared that “publishing is the opposite of writing.” I furiously scribbled in my notepad as she professed that “you should write as if no one will ever see it.” Cisneros explained that when you write for the purpose of “showing” or “publishing” your results are rushed, and you unknowingly censor yourself with a prospective and limiting audience in mind. 

This damage to creativity was exactly what I was feeling when I thought back to Cisneros’ words, scrounging for the notepad I knew was somewhere within my paper-strewn desk. I had been struggling to produce a new piece for a competition, with the deadline mere days away. Instead, after reading through Cisneros’ quotes, I decided to revisit something I never thought I would show to anyone. I chose a piece that I had written strictly for myself, not for the purpose of publishing. When I reviewed the poem, I was able to communicate the story with a new light and understanding. Before I knew it, the piece had morphed into something I had never expected it to be. In the words of Sandra Cisneros, it had taken me to an “Unexpected Place” which she advises is the indication that your piece is finished. You can satisfactorily say you are the closest you ever will be to completion–-this is never absolute in writing–-when your work has reached conclusions you hadn’t considered in its inception. 

After re-reading the poem (several times), I drew in a relieved breath, and smiled out of pride and love—an emotion I hadn’t realized had been missing from my writing until then. Because of the lessons shared by Sandra Cisneros, who I was able to derive counsel from by the sponsorship of the Dodge Poetry Festival, I was able to reclaim and celebrate my passion for writing. When I look back, I realize I came frighteningly close to turning my passion into a burden, a job. Cisneros rekindled a love for the craft that I had smothered with the pressures of competition. I am thankful for her, the Dodge Poetry Festival, and the highschool who allowed me to attend such a transformative event.