Always be a poet, even in prose. ~Charles Baudelaire, “My Heart Laid Bare,”Intimate Journals, 1864
Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. ~Plato, Ion
The smell of ink is intoxicating to me — others may have wine, but I have poetry. ~Terri Guillemets
Barely visible to any unassuming pair of eyes, a dusty collection of old journals lives down in the farthest, darkest corner of my home. Hidden away in the basement storage area for obvious reasons, but still accessible enough that anyone on a hunt for something else would be able to find these passionate records, a scattered history of my early life remains in clear storage bins. This vast array of books hold the secrets to my early truths. Held inside is the trail of self-discovery I embarked upon—forming this collected record—written snippets of a life searching for meaning. Scribbled letters formed tightly together at first, moving quickly toward a type of sprawling formation all over the page—my most raw emotions and thoughts, previous perceptions and presumptions are preserved for any reader to read in a type of dark ink, however now slightly faded.
A younger version of myself wrote out of pure emotion and often only when my heart had been broken or my ego bruised. (Not unlike any other adolescent girl, I presume.) To make sense of it all—the quick swirl of emotions, the intensity of love with all its ups and downs, the joy and disappointments—much like finding yoga and hiking or walking through the woods to calm the storms atypically rampant in adolescence and young adulthood—writing became my refuge and rejuvenated me in ways no other system or activity ever could. Always in unlined journals, I tried to capture my life in words and hoped to free myself from the pains that followed hard choices and experiences that left me feeling empty and alone. By writing through it all, I was pulled by the words of my own making and gained a clearer sense of the moving on and the freedom and fright of moving away, and conquered the anguish and mixed emotions that accompanied me every time I planned on coming back home. Inside these deeply personal books lie the questions of that time, my profound discoveries, the compelling answers, and also the mundane of my early life.
As far back as I can remember, books were the answer to almost everything in my family. Struggling to spell a word? My mother would say, “Look it up in the dictionary.” Bored to tears? “Read a book,” was always my parents’ first answer to our whining and complaints. The day I started my period, I sat on the hardwood floor of my bedroom with my back against the pale blue wall and wrote in my teal green college-ruled composition notebook to work out the mixed emotions I had rushing over me all at once. A soft knock at the door interrupted my writing, and my mother came in with a hardbound book in hand. She presented this new genre to me with a, “Read this–then we’ll talk.”
It was about this time in my life that I discovered poetry. Where I could lose myself in all sorts of novels and actually loved reading my school textbooks, poetry met me where I was and took me to places I’d never imagined before. Back then, poetry held all the answers by insight and depth. In eighth grade, we had an assignment to write poems inspired by Langston Hughes’ “Dream Deferred” and I still remember the joy that came with the discovery of another poet that inspired and amazed me, and the pleasure I felt in trying to mimic his style as I worked diligently to perfect my own writing. My library card was well-worn by then as I borrowed what seemed like all of the library’s poetry anthologies and collections. At night, I eagerly devoured each poet’s words by the aid of a flashlight in my bed during the calm of the night–the only peaceful time in my family home. Although my family knew I read–that was my thing like sports were to each of my siblings–I still didn’t want to catch any flack for reading poems. If found out, I feared opening myself up to even more ridicule and relentless teasing by peers and family members alike. So, I hid my propensity for the most captivating and beautiful literature I had ever encountered and read on.
The more poems I read, the more I needed to read. And amidst the discovery of old and new poets alike, I fell in love with the process of poems. As I eagerly took on the more obscure, lesser known poets and their poems, I made a game out of trying to figure out their form, guessing the poem’s purpose and intent, and letting the poets themselves teach me about their chosen craft. What I enjoyed most about the learning process was how poems made me feel closer to the words themselves and I felt empowered knowing that I could go deeper in my own writing, revealing my innermost self in ways unimaginable before my discovery of such gift-bearing literature. Reading with more awareness now, I gave in to the hunger for drawing nearer as I read, digesting the deeper meaning and learning to let the words soak through my skin and touch me to the core. I aspired to write like these master wordsmiths, and my ambition to achieve this goal still remains one of the most important objectives in my writing today as I allow the poets to guide and their poetry to continually enlighten and inspire me beyond expectation.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d be pleased to hear about your favorite poem, poet, or collection of poetry!