When I took my college placement exams, I tested into Remedial Math and Advanced English Composition. I got an A on every paper I wrote in that class and my Professor recommended me for a new writing program the English Department was developing. It was in this group that a professor showed us a video of Sharon Olds reading her poem Topography and I fell in love with it.
As soon as I could, I bought the book containing that poem and poured over the pages. I've never liked writing fiction, and it was here that first I saw a way to tell my story and write non-fiction. Sharon Olds is the first writer who made me say "I want to do that!"
Her writing showed me that poetry isn't always fluff or over my head. Her poems tell stories that are ripe with emotion and the gritty rawness of life. She writes about her father's death, her divorce, about love and sexuality.
I was 18 at the time, and while I didn't have a ton of life experience to draw on, I still managed to fill pages and pages of notebooks with poems. I wrote about love and lust, about boyfriends and family issues. I had been keeping a journal for a while but writing poetry was the first time I tapped into the guts of my writing, the first time I was able to truly express myself with my written words. I still some of those poems tucked away.
I'm not sure when I made the transition to writing personal essay style, which is my preferred style now. I still love poetry and try my hand at it occasionally. I find it helpful for intensely emotional topics, when I can't quite string sentences together yet.
If you haven't heard of Sharon Olds before, or if you think you don't like poetry, do yourself a favor and give her stuff a try!