I am a poet, and this is my story of my love affair with words.
I write, but I am no acclaimed poet or novelist. I may never be inducted into the mysterious realm of the important and celebrated poets of the world. But I love words. I love the beauty and passion words can create when arranged in specific lines and stanzas, painted across a page as beautifully as an artist’s canvas. Writing for me was, in the beginning, an experiment of sorts, of wondering what it was like to live a different life. So I created other lives, and the characters became my real friends, incarnated in paper and ink rather than flesh and blood. The teenage angst years were when I truly began to experiment with poetry as a way to flush out the sometimes over-dramatic emotions of being a teenager. Then I heard a song—I always loved music, and songwriters are some of my favorite poets—but this song made me stop in my tracks and say, “Those are my words in his voice. Those are my words in his song.” And that was it—I knew that words would forever be the love of my life.
My teenage angst poetry was not, in fact, poetry—well, it wasn’t publishable, nor did it resemble a honed craft yet. I entered my undergrad as an English major with the questions of what was the essence of poetry, and what could I do to actually write it? The 19th century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley stated in his essay In Defence of Poetry that a poem “is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth” (405). Poetry “lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (406). Poets, he stated, “are the unacknowledged legislators of the World” (410).
I’m quite certain I didn’t – and still don’t—fit the description of being a “legislator of the world,” unacknowledged or otherwise. Frankly, I just love words. I love the look of them on the page; I love the feel of them on my tongue. I love arranging them in phrases and sentences simply to hear how they sound. Although I think my strength in writing is fiction, not poetry, I have reflected on why I choose to verge onto that foreboding path every now and then. Fast forward approximately two hundred years from Shelley to my graduate poetry class: the introductory material to the class stated that poetry “is a concentrated, constructed, concise, and interactive art form: it attempts to convey the human condition briefly in carefully constructed lines, stanzas and forms; with precise language and evocative images; with music created by sound and rhythm.”
I was, and therefore I am, a poet.
I am a reader and listener of poetry also, although my interpretation of someone else’s poem or song may be completely different from the poet’s intent. I find meaning in reading a poem or listening to a song, for the most part, in the same way I get meaning from my own writing. I find even one line that I can latch onto, that I think will be able to describe a human emotion even in its most basic sense, and I throw it out, like a lasso, hoping to catch something meaningful. Because even those who aren’t writers or even readers still have one characteristic in common—we are human.
Writing poetry, however, is very different than reading it. I suppose most writers, no matter which genre they find themselves drawn to, are asked these same questions: what inspires you to write, how do the ideas and stories come into your head, and how do you arrange the words of our language into meaningful expressions?
The answers are, of course, very different for each writer. I write to capture a slice of a story, to capture an emotion, to express life in its eternal truth, to represent a part of the human condition.
My poets are songwriters.
I see him, the poet. Our eyes meet and he holds my gaze, but I’m the first to look away, because my brain has gone as numb as my knees, and my tongue has become a dam, holding back all the things I want to say. When it does let loose, I begin to curse, and not even under my breath. What do I say to a person whose songs have inspired words to take life in me? What do I say to a person whose songs have become the soundtrack to the stories in my head? But there is nothing for it, because if I don’t say something, I never will. So I begin to overflow and drown him with my confessions of how his words have taken up residence in my soul and inspired my own words to free themselves from silence, compelling me to go to the page.
And I take a deep breath. And I write.
I am a poet, and someday, I hope to inspire someone to write as these poets have inspired me. I hope to touch someone the way I have been touched.
I hope to send a spark to someone else’s fingertips.
A Silent Film. “Rustle of the Stars.” Sand and Snow. MTHEORY, 2012. MP3.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Eds. Joseph Black, et al. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2011. 402 - 410. Print.
I am most gratefully indebted to Diana Webber for her excellent editing skills, and to the two Robs who have inspired and continue to inspire my writing. Thank you to Angela Rae Harris for publishing this piece originally. As always, Shawn, Lily, and Aislin are my reasons.