Struck by Lightning

(by Daniel R. Jones)

A poet whom I greatly admire recently shared the following quotation:

“A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times.” -Randall Jarrell

Those familiar with Randall Jarrell will recall that he was no stranger to being struck by lightning. In fact, I’d say he could bottle it. More often than not, his poems seemed to hit their mark. But was he on to something?

I had a professor in grad school who told me that if I’m being honest with myself, in a year’s time I only write two or three truly good poems. If I’m having a particularly productive year, I might get lucky and write four or five.

At the time, it felt painstakingly pessimistic. But as I look at my corpus of work, I’m forced to reckon with the fact that regardless of my output in any particular year, the amount of really good poems never jumps much higher than three to five per year. 

So, what does that mean for my creative process? To be honest, absolutely nothing. If we’re going to extend the metaphor that Jarrell put forth, there’s not a lot I can do to “up” my chances of getting struck by lightning. I suppose I could employ a lightning rod or splash around in a body of water. 

But the best thing I can do to ensure I can bottle that lightning when it comes is to simply stand in the thunderstorm. 

Taking a more spiritual approach to it, I think the artist who serves Christ is actually beholden to such a task. As Jesus’ disciples, we have a mandate to listen for the Spirit and dictate accordingly. In the immortal words of a poetic titan- “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

So with the mindset of Jarrell and the obedience of Milton, I’ll stand and wait in the thunderstorm, hoping and praying for lightning.

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