By Hayden MacKinnon

Hayden, also know as @steelandbonepoetry, is the Associate Editor for Her Heart Poetry’s auxiliary channel, @herheartoncraft, which focuses specifically on lessons designed to improve your poetry writing skills.

As I hid under the table, clutching the chrome legs of my second-grade desk, I could hear my teacher reading a poem I had written a few days before to none other than my mother and father. She kindly praised my use of imagery, descriptive language, and the ways I established a sense of voice – high praise, indeed, for an eight-year-old!  

You see, even though I was still young, I was already learning what it meant to be male and masculine – to be a “real man.” When I wrote that poem, I unearthed a part of myself that was authentic and creative, a part of me that found joy in capturing beautiful images with words, and as I sat under the desk trying to understand why my teacher would take the time to share something so personal with my parents of all people, I found myself struggling to accept that part of me which was absolutely indispensable.  

I’ve been writing in some form ever since that day twenty-something years ago, but those moments under the table stayed with me as some of the most defining instances of what it means to be a man who writes poetry in the 21st century.

As the years passed, I continued to form my own ideas of masculinity and the discrepancies between who I was and who society said I should be became increasingly clear. I saw male athletes, movie stars, weightlifters, etc, all of whom displayed physical strength, grit, attitude, and toughness but  when I tried to show any of those qualities, I failed miserably.

I was usually the stereotypical “last pick” on the playground, because instead of playing sports or fighting, I prefered burying myself in a good book or visiting the library.  For ages I struggled with the fact that the only thing I was able to build was a pillow fort or a LEGO playset, and it felt like whatever I did, I was never good enough, that I never added up, and that because I was so in love with books, words, and writing, I was somehow less of a man. That skewed mentality of manhood continued throughout my teens and twenties, where I even brought it into my marriage, and it continued until I reached my thirties, when the light finally appeared.

I’m not entirely sure whether they combusted spontaneously, or as more of a slow, steady burn, those ridiculous ideas, that a man had to be hard as a rock, good with a chainsaw, and never show his emotions.  I’d dabbled for years in different genres of writing including short stories, non-fiction articles, and I even tried my hand at writing a novel, but while they all helped in some small way to dispel those societal definitions, ultimately they left me with little more than a heap of unfinished projects to which I had no desire to return and the jaded, disillusioned feelings that nothing I did would ever be “good enough.”

Enter poetry.

Reading and studying poetry had always been enjoyable (good thing, too, since it was the heavy focus of my degree in English Literature), but I had never really committed to writing it on a consistent basis. In 2017, I made the decision to start a poetry-based Instagram account, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Poetry has helped me to accept that creativity is something that defines and drives me, something I truly cannot live without – and certainly not something of which I should be ashamed.

Moreover, I now understand that true masculinity is not found in one’s outward actions but in the strength of a man’s character and the ways that he uses that strength to positively affect the world around him.

Write about it!

What has your journey through masculinity and poetry taught you?
What truths have been revealed since that first time you committed your creative mind to writing poems?

Write a poem telling us about some of the lessons you’ve learned, and be as specific or vague as you’d like! Either way, just tell the world about how poetry has helped to reshape your masculinity in healthy ways instead of the toxic ways society would have you buy into.

When you’re done writing, post it to Instagram, and use the tag, #healthymasculinity. Who knows? Maybe you’re poem will be featured!

Thanks for reading!

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