Wednesday, 19 July 2017

On Poetry II

To Make a Path of Honest Words 

I am tempted to say that I am not a poet, to excuse the lack of sophistication of my poetry; though to say such a thing would be disingenuous, not to mention missing the point. 

I decided to write poems this year, to listen to the words that would come, often unbidden, and write them down in the forms they chose, because they would say profound things in concise and beautiful ways. I wanted to be enchanted by the song of words once more, to rouse myself out of the lethargy that had claimed me. And because I have not been able to turn my mind and energy to story-writing for some time (which requires a kind of thought that is sustained over longer periods), I wanted a form of writing that was succinct, using few words to say much. 

Over three years ago, when I was just beginning to write, I wasn’t sure I could write poetry. In my Morning Pages I said this:

Part of me wants to be able to write poetry. At this point I feel unable though. I feel like poetry requires the poet to go deep into things, and I am still wading in the shallows. I’ve gone deep in some ways, into myself, but I want to be able to do the same with the landscape and weather and nonhuman creatures. 

And this:

I think poetry is in order. Writing things that are expressive in concise ways. Direct. Precise. A nugget of wisdom. Of expression. Something small and contained, being full in every way.

And then, surprisingly, some poems emerged, including ‘Tree Woman’ and ‘Wedding’, which I shared last year; and suddenly, in a humble, embryonic way, I was a poet. Then Story began to claim much more of my attention, and I forgot how powerful it was to create in small, though sometimes greatly potent, ways. 

So turning my attention back to poetry this year has been a return to my beginnings as a writer, my first explorations of words, images and meanings, and how they could be formed on the page. It has been about remembering the joy, creative energy and transformation that came to me when I started to write. It has also been about medicine and healing, getting myself through this difficult period with my health, and creating in little, manageable ways, when I have been unable to do much else.

Writing poetry is also a good lesson in listening, in maintaining openness, and trusting in the creative process. Trusting words to say what they (or I) need to say.

Thus, poetry has been something of a lifesaver, a practice that is not only beneficial, but most importantly—doable—in my current circumstances.

Of course, I have wondered if my poems are any good. Should I really share them here? But what exactly makes a poem good or bad? All I know is that I felt good when I was writing them, and they came into being with very little effort on my part. I merely responded to a word, a line, and the poem arrived, fully itself.

Of her own poetry, when experiencing a manic depressive episode, Jay Griffiths writes:

I didn’t really care if these poems were good or bad; if medicine cures, it is irrelevant whether it tastes bitter or sweet. I had to write without censoring myself, to curl mania around and bring it home safe; to make a path of honest words, to write the truths which save the psyche, not because the words would be perfect but because they would be present and pure. In the darkness of night and illness, I could riddle the stars for their sparks. (Jay Griffiths, Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression, Penguin, 2016, p. 124)

My own poems—small, humble, imperfect—are my truths, my medicine. Bitter or sweet, good or bad, they say what my psyche needs to say, what my body and the earth need to speak through me. Present and pure, they are a path of honest words that has kept me walking the twisting path of the writer. That is the point.

My poetry so far this year:


  1. I love what you have written here. I wonder if the problem so many of us have with saying "I am a poet" or "I am a writer" is this business of connecting our identity/selfhood (and therefore perhaps our intrinsic worth) with what we do. I wish we could say simply "I poeticise" or "I write" or "I build houses". Anyway, I really do like your poems and I like you too :-)

    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Sarah. It's all the more difficult when I haven't, and may never be, published, so I wonder, am I 'legit'? Am I really a writer? But writing is what I can do, and I'm not so bad at it, I think, so I will keep on doing it (of course keeping in mind that it is not all I am). And next time someone asks me what I do (my most hated question!), I will remember to say, 'I poeticise'. x


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