Every so often when I’m in a funk I’m reminded, thankfully, of the wonder that is poetry.
To lift me out of the rut. To transport me to another place; another space.
It’s truly wondrous because it’s the only literal art form I know that conveys a wealth of emotions and wisdom with just a few words.
But you can’t sink your teeth into all of it. All at once. Especially if you’re making the mistake of thinking you can get everything out of it in just one sitting. Like the way you would sink your teeth into a ripe grape and rightfully expect to finish it in one single juicy gulp.
Poetry demands we slow down and notice the minute details of things around us. And to do so on an almost daily basis until you master the art of going slow, going long and going deep.
That’s what poetry makes me do anyway. And how it has helped me with my writing in the past couple of years.
How my son’s rejection led to my first poetry blog post!
While I can’t recall anymore what the specific incident was, the feeling was hardly new. Even now, such feelings can pop up again when my guard’s down. I’m sure any parent reading this will empathise with what I say, since being rejected by your offspring every so often comes with the territory of parenting!
But that particular moment for me? I just remembered feeling like a brick wall had just fallen and flattened me to the ground. Or some giant had just picked me up by the collar and hurled me straight against said wall!
And right there and then the word “hurl” suddenly locked itself onto my consciousness. Leading me to pen that first poetry post!
And there’s been no looking back ever since.
So just how you ask does poetry writing help writers?
Here are three ways I’ve experienced poetry.
How poetry writing helps writers
Like seeds in fertile ground that eventually birth strong oaks, I’ve found that poetry has the ability to help generate ideas for me that I might otherwise have overlooked or ignored.
Last year I wrote a short poem about my mom as I reflected on International Women’s Day on March 8. It was the first time I had done so even though she’s appeared in previous blog posts before, when I talked about her living with us since October 2019.
From that poem somehow, the seed was sown for my mom to make subsequent appearances in other posts as well. Those gave me a chance to explore her dementia and our relationship, birthing a mini-series I call Parenting in Reverse that’s still unfolding even now.
With precious few lines and even fewer pages than other literary forms, poems force us to make every word, every syllable count. Every punctuation and stanza has to be there for a reason.
And the poem needs to have its own rhythm. Its own syncopation. Its own breath. However small.
Therein lies the beauty and the magic! For it is from the ‘small’, the seemingly insignificant minutiae of each word, each phrase that sometimes the most potent of truths about our very existence emerges.
Which was how I felt when I wrote poem #10 “When Breath Becomes Air” last January.
[Not to be confused with the touching memoir of the same title by Dr Paul Kalanithi who in 2015 sadly passed away at the tender age of 38 due to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer. His story was published that same year and became a bestseller]
That poem was birthed on a day I was feeling overwhelmed and needed to take some pretty deep breaths to regain my composure. In the course of that it struck me how important taking a breath was. And how often we take it for granted.
So I decided to write about it
And somehow it became a poem. And as I wrote it, I could feel my awareness of the priceless gift of life well up in me. A sense of gratitude emerged, which fuelled me to complete the poem in one sitting.
It has since helped me see the “pearl in the oyster” of other seemingly small moments in my life.
Which brings me to the third and final way writing poetry has helped my writing.
Whenever I get lost and confused about what’s happening in the world and in my life — and there are plenty of such moments — poems help me make sense of it all.
Through the simple act of stringing what looks to be completely disconnected ideas, doubts and fears down on paper or my computer screen, themes start to emerge and many times, clarity invariably descends.
Like the poem I wrote just last week, where I caught what I believed was a revelation for me. That our lives are lived daily in the “in-between”, or what I referred to in that poem as the place between the “already” and the “not yet.”
That notion really helped me realise that I should embrace each moment life gives us. To be as it were, “in the moment”, when I’m in the moment. To stop pining for the past or clamouring for what’s next.
For me that instant of “enlightenment” was both liberating and cosmic in its sheer enormity! I thought I could burst with a hundred different colourful M&Ms to sprinkle over a hundred different blog posts. Maybe even for days on end.
It was nothing less than total exhilaration!
For me, poetry is to writing what breath is to life!
So yes poetry has helped me as both a writer and a human being.
It has helped me ponder more deeply, regaining the confidence to write on days I feel everything I put down sucks.
It has helped me to keep things simple yet look for the profound. To believe in the power of words and to keep my love for the written word alive and ever-expanding.
So were you to ask me now if I had not any words or poetry in my life that reveal so much, like daily news on the wire reveal; whether I would still ‘breathe and be alive’?
Well, all I can say is it would be like what American poet and writer William Carlos Williams once wrote: