Instead of going out with E, I stay home and write a poem. I do not tell him that this is what I am doing, because he will miss me and convince me to go out. In some alternate universe there is a version of myself that is out with E, where we eat nice food and have lots of fun like silly kids out on a Thursday night. We talk about his cute girlfriend and my unresolved daddy issues, and he makes me laugh so much that I do not think of poetry at all. Books do not exist in this alternate universe because I am so content. There is no time for dreaming.
Instead, I am here in my bed, thinking of the poem, unfinished, although I have been trying to write it for weeks. Somehow the outside world is separated from this realm of poetry. It’s as though there is the poem and there is the art, and everything else is just research. Daily living is just a side project.
At university I am taking a class on Creative Writing, and it is wonderful and arduous. I am painfully aware of my use of words. Everything has a purpose, everything begs for speculation. Why did you choose to call yourself water? Is this poem about death? Is this line necessary? & so on. As I grow into the world of writing, I realise that I have to sell myself. When I am asked to write for a friend’s project, I think: dear god let me feel compelled to write about happy ordinary things just this once. Every sentence is perfectly constructed, I mull over commas and line-breaks, I send drafts to other writer-friends because I suddenly want to know: is this good? Which is a necessary question, although it can sometimes shift into: is my writing passable if I use all my best technical skills, even if the feeling is not there, even if it is fake, simply because I am afraid of writing about death, or water, or some other unsayable thing?
I have decided that I am tired from months of psychotherapy, and I no longer want to talk about my anguish. At the same time I don’t know how to talk about anything else. The only thing left is to not talk at all, because I have used up all of my words and there is nothing else to say. Slowly, I try to find my roots. I say I will write about my mother. I will write about women. About food, and the weather. And the trees. There is a certain kindness in the world and I want to find it. This year I have realised that healing is inherently painful, and each week when I visit the psychologist’s office, I know I must look at this ugly thing inside of me and shoot it in the face. Which is terrible imagery, I know, but this is how it feels.
I wonder sometimes if there are things that cannot exist in poetry. If the words do not find themselves, and the feeling never comes, do I find myself in paintings? In novels? In history and essays? I recently read Audre Lorde’s Poetry Is Not a Luxury, and it resonated with me very deeply. Here is an excerpt from her piece, simply as a reminder to myself. Audre Lorde has popped up in so many of my classes and accidental readings and anthologies – I think her ghost is following me, praying for me. She makes me feel incredibly safe and understood, which is a rare and special thing.
As they become known and accepted to ourselves, our feelings, and the honest exploration of them, become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas, the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action. Right now, I could name at least ten ideas I would have once found intolerable or incomprehensible and frightening, except as they came after dreams and poems. This is not idle fantasy, but the true meaning of “it feels right to me.” We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream or vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.