When my sister-in-law was in high school she had a boyfriend who shaved his head regularly and wore ill-fitting, dark clothing. He was a Calvinist, which led to much consternation on the part of my mother-in-law, and much sharpening of arguments on the part of my soon-to-be husband. He was also a teenaged poet. He read us a few poems as we sat circled around the dinner table once, and with that, he sealed his fate with the family. Everyone but my husband deemed it inscrutable and devoid of meaning. It was charming and mysterious when the poetry remained an idea, but once the words gathered in the space between us, we wanted to immediately connect with them in some way. We wanted simple. We wanted easy to grasp, spell-it-out, transparent meaning.
With the exception of my grumpy twelfth grade English teacher Ms. Antonelli, the short-lived boyfriend gave me one of my few early brushes with poetry. I cut my teeth on fiction growing up. I read innumerable novels, suffered through non-fiction, and attempted to enjoy short stories. But poetry remained a complete mystery.
As a teenager and young adult, I was closed-off, and emotionally disconnected from my inner self. I had yet to discover my own writing, and without a tool to excavate the deeper things, I struggled on the surface. I was so vulnerable, to open the door to my inner life a crack–to question, to dream, to explore my inner landscape–would have released the dam holding me together. I fear I would have drowned in it. Had I been brave enough, I think poetry could have saved me.
When I start to feel like life is pressing down heavy and I can’t breathe, reading is air to me. Poetry has become pure oxygen. I struggle to understand it more than your average reader, but to breathe free, it’s worth the effort. I have little books of poetry scattered throughout the house, in the car, and in my email in-box. I’m not a poet, but I connect with how they too, see through a glass darkly. Their words help me see myself and others more clearly.
My thoughts have turned to poetry lately because I’m wrestling with some emotions and fears I’d rather stuff down. When I get squirrely, I begin to rebuild the dam that stories and poems and my own work have quietly dismantled over the last ten years. It is good to know my weaknesses, and have words to turn to. Now I understand why seasons of my life have been wallpapered with the Psalms. They cut straight to the heart of things, don’t they?
I’m grateful for the bald, Calvinist, teenaged poet, however inscrutable his poetry. He was dismantled, transparent, brave. He was also weird, and I have a deep appreciation for everything left of center, because it is everything I’m not. I’ve grown weary of toeing the line of normalcy, and rebuilding this dam to hold all the things together. Time for a little poetry.
*A note for you, dear reader: As a writer who hopes to be published, I’m supposed to be writing things like “Ten days to thinner thighs”, or “Five ways to fix your marriage without fuss or fighting”. I’m not supposed to be writing about things like my late-blooming love for poetry because it doesn’t offer a “take-away” for you, the reader. But, I don’t buy it. I think you’re smarter and deeper than that. I think you can connect to my struggle because we’re all human and we’re all squirrely and we’re all hiding behind something. What draws you out? It’s probably not poetry, but it’s something. I’d love to know what brings you healing and makes you a whole person. We’re all a tiny bit left of center after all, aren’t we?