October 16, 2007

Poetry and My Life

There was a little mouse
who had a very little house
Three big mice got ice
but the little mouse said please
for a piece of cheese.

That's the first poem anyone remembers me writing. I was five, and I can still feel the jangling thrill of realization that came from MAKING a poem. The idea that I could pull something as real as a poem from the apparent nothingness of my small self was intoxicating.

I'm not sure why poetry seemed so real to me. My parents read to me all the time, but neither of them shared my particular love for poetry. There was something about the sound and feel of words that mattered to me, and I figured out pretty quickly that this meant that poets were my tribe.

As I grew, my deep and unquestioning affinity for poetry was periodically clouded by outside influences. I went through years of wondering where the other people who liked poetry were, wondering if maybe I'd been wrong, wondering if writing poetry was beyond my reach after all.

When I was in high school, and struggling to get beyond what I came to see as the major themes of adolescent poetry*, I visited my grandmothers in Florida and discovered a cache of my old letters to Nana. And there, pressed between school pictures and report cards, was the incontrovertible evidence; I had never STOPPED being a poet. I found page after page of poems that I had no memory of writing, but which were clearly written in my hand. And that, coupled with my discovery of Denise Levertov, ee cummings, and A.R. Ammons, sealed the deal: I was a poet, and no one could ever take that away from me or shame me out of claiming it.

So I am a poet. And sometimes it shows. As with my spirtual identity and my sexual identity, my identity as a poet is about my orientation to and relationship with the world. Since becoming a parent, I have written more haiku than any other kind of poem; my relationship with time has changed in these years, and I want to both mark its swift passage and relish those moments when it seems to fall away. I am a lover of words, and the the days when I am able to spend some time playing and working and wrestling with them in a spirit of creation are good days indeed. I write for myself, for my partner, for our son, for our friends, and sometimes for those I may never meet. And even when I am not writing, I'm still a poet.

So my goal, in this as in everything, is to continue to live into my gifts. To write more often than not. To be so completely "out" as a poet that no one – especially not me! – ever questions it.

Thanks for asking, Jillypoet! I am looking forward to reading other folks' contributions.

* The seven major themes of adolescent poetry, as I see them
(I work in a high school, so....):

"I love you, you love me"
"I love you, why don't you love me"
"Whoa, the world is amazing"
"My grandmother is/was a saint"
"No one could possibly understand how I feel"
"Current Events"

Not that it's impossible to write a good poem on any number of these themes,
just that in the swirl of hormonal surges it's sometimes hard to find your own voice.

(Thanks to the good women of Fertile Ground
for their creation of an inviting space.)


polka dot witch said...

thanks for telling us this story! although i have "i found a bunch of poems from when i was a kid" envy. i am so happy that you know this is a part of you and so thrilled that i know you and so many others who celebrate themselves in this way!

jillypoet said...

It seems that with this first challenge, we are discovering a whole group of writers who are very passionate about their roles as poet. I love that you have always known you were a poet. I find it remarkable that you found poems you didn't remember writing, yet they were in your own hand.

I so identify with this: "I am a lover of words, and the the days when I am able to spend some time playing and working and wrestling with them in a spirit of creation are good days indeed." This, I think, is why I write. I love the good fight!

Christine said...

How nice to have one of your very first poems. Did you save it? Or was it your sweet Nana?

I'm happy to meet you, and I'm glad you are "out". I can completely identify with those sentiments, because being a poet is not something you can see. An artist can point to a painting, a dancer can hop in the air, a singer can belt out a tune. But usually a poet doesn't recite poetry on demand. Maybe we should start a trend!

kimberley said...

Your love affair with words is obvious here on your blog. Thanks for sharing your journey with poetry - how it weaves into all the areas of your life.

poet with a day job said...

Great statement! I am especially fond of the line "And even when I am not writing, I'm still a poet."

There is never a more true statement about poets. Because true that, being a poet requires writing poetry, what makes you a poet is the way you see the world. And whether or not you write it down doesn't matter. You'll always see it the way you do.

AscenderRisesAbove said...

that is the cutest little first poem. I stopped at the word ice and wondered why a mouse would have cocaine.... and then I read to where you said you wrote at five and realized it was the literal meaning of ice. hahaha.

...deb said...

I'm impressed and a little envious that you were always a poet. The finding of those letters and poems is so astounding as to belong in a story (yes, it is here, but goodness, it is so lovely to be read again and again).

How dear that your Grandmother saved them, how honest to not remember having written them. Magical.

Nicely written. Quite a statement. Even though my own writing life took a 40-year leap--from adolescence to middle-age--I find inspiration in your words.