My earliest experience of writing poetry was in Grade 6 when I wrote a poem about meeting an elf under an oak tree. The elf gave me three wishes and I vaguely remember one of the wishes was for “peace on earth”, a going concern of mine at the time.
I overheard grown up conversations about the Cuban missile crisis, whisperings of the threat of nuclear war and my best friend’s family still had a backyard bomb shelter and cold storage cupboard in their basement. I was a nervous child.
When my teacher, Miss McGuire told me she liked my poem and had shared it with her friends I still remember the joy I felt that they were moved by my poem.
However, writing one poem a teacher liked did not make me believe I could express myself again this way. In fact, I didn’t try again until almost thirty years later. I didn’t search out poetry but it infiltrated my teenage life through the songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Luke Kelly. When I started attending writing workshops I was introduced to poets such as Mary Oliver, WB Yeats, Naomi Shihab Nye, Eavan Boland and Seamus Heaney to name a few. This made me curious to read more and try expressing myself through this art form.
I am drawn to the economic way a poet expresses emotion. The sonnet Seamus Heaney wrote after his mother died, When all the others were away at mass, invites me in to witness this experience of closeness between mother and son. I admire how the poet evokes emotion in a few lines. I can hear the music and his world becomes alive for me.
The challenge is finding the balance between what I want to say and how I say it. Can I be confident that the content will eventually dictate the form? Can I hear the music in the words I choose? The technical aspect of the craft is becoming more important and I am continually returning to abandoned poems to make them more effective.
The essence of what I write is my sacred ground and I have to protect it. I have to take care, treat myself gently and be cautious of intruders. I am learning when feedback is helpful for my growth as an artist and when I have to be comfortable with not getting validation. I have to trust my own process. My moments in life and poetry are intertwined and my offering of a poem is my gift to the world.
There is a poem by Jeanne Lohmann: Praise What Comes that says, ….” at the ragged edges of pain, did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy.” My relationship with poetry is all about the mystery of living and trying to answer the question the poet poses in this poem, “ …did I love, finish my task in the world? Learn at least one of the many names of God? Have I love well and loved enough.” In the end that is all that matters. Poetry that is clear and true.