This past year I fell into a great big disconnect from my old writing, from which I have yet to recover and the question is whether or not I will. One reason why I find myself no longer interested in my older writing is because it is no longer who I am. The first twenty years of my writing were heavily indebted to my personal life, evolving from a teenager into an adult. The poetry written during those years is ripe with the emotion, the agony, and the ecstasy of who I was as a gay philosophical poet struggling to express myself in language and imagery because I had no other tangible outlet through which to channel my needs and desires. Today, the emotion has subsided; my personal life no longer crushes me with the angst of a typical teenager and twentysomething trying to discover who they are. I know exactly who I am; in a way I always have, whether I denied it or not, and it is this that is the problem it has always been—the punishment for knowing who I am for over twenty years is that I have never actually had the freedom to be who I am. I have not been allowed to actualize my identity, thus my use of writing (of poetry in particular) to articulate and give voice to my identity in all its complexity as it has evolved for over two decades.
I am not the human being I was twenty-four years ago when I began writing on that cold, empty January day in high school. Nor am I the poet I slowly started to become three years later, or the poet I was a decade ago. The detachment I have begun experiencing in the last year from my poetry and essays is the consequence of the natural process of change, development, and evolution that each human being experiences as the continuously moving hands of Time wear us down as we go through the chapters and stanzas of our lives. I react with disinterest and strangeness to my work from five years ago and earlier because it reflects someone who no longer exists, a self that cannot be found in the mirror. The ornate, overflowing chalices of romantic love and desire, fear and prophetic doom that each of those poems is do not correspond to the heart and mind that beats and thinks in the body whose fingers are typing these lines.
This detachment is, in a way, the growing pains of recognizing that I am not and can never again be the person I was then. In the physical, my youth, my innocence, is lost and I can look back all I want like Janus, but, as he is two faced, so am I, as we all are, and so at the same time I must look forward, for it is in the present moment always opening into the future that we attempt to sculpt and ground our lives as we are driven forward by sweeping forces to ends unknown in what amounts to an almost perpetual free fall, for even the best-laid plans can be blown down in an instant when God laughs at them, and the past cannot be grasped like the sand in an hourglass, and when the memories we can salvage return to the surface they have no resemblance to the actual experiences. By the very nature of things our memories are shadows, phantoms that haunt through howls and silence, whose spectral presence we produce out of fear and longing when we choose to look backward.
The fear and longing, the loneliness and despair, the lust and love that were once ever-present in my life years ago, for what felt like forever, the claustrophobic weight of these is gone. They have vanished and their only trace is in the poetry I wrote with each ebb and flow of the tide of my philosophical, artistic, and emotional being. I cannot meet the teenage boy and young man who is in these pieces in the flesh; I can only know him through the language he wrote, through the images he penned with the ink of his emotions, and remember that even in this I can only vaguely know who he was in those brief moments of creation, for it was only then that the intensity of his passion could be voiced, in cracks between the relentless hours of silence that yawned on either side of him when he was not writing, in those times when he was his true self, when he was alone in the hypnotic realm of imagination and desire, birthing the countless pages of poetry he has left behind.
Knowing this, my past work has no value, not to me, because the young man who wrote it no longer exists. Others may deem my poetry and essays of value, and that is the paradoxical beauty and truth of art—the creator ultimately cannot retain an undying love for his creation, for once it is released on the page or the canvas, it no longer belongs to the artist, but to the world, even if it never sees the light of day. In the end, all art is about the audience, those who engage with it, not the artist. In this truth lies the greatest freedom and most enthralling beauty for the artist: the liberating feeling of being able to let go of the gathering storm that led him to create in the first place as well as the piece itself so that he can move forward and continue creating, ever evolving, and his art along with him.