Discovering the Relevance of Words
WHAT POETRY MEANS TO ME
– CLEMENTINE von RADICS
What Poetry Means To Me
“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Three years ago, I was in a bad relationship. One night, we had an argument about differences so fundamental I realized we had found the problem that would break us. I saw the end, but I was afraid. We lived together. Our lives and finances were entangled, and I didn’t see how I could leave. More than that, I loved them. I loved them very, very, much. I could see they were falling out of love with me, but love anchored me there anyway.
So we stumbled on for another few weeks, but in the back of my mind, every day, I kept hearing this lyric by Stephen Sondheim:
Something just broke.
Eventually they left me. And by “left me”, I mean they turned off their phone for a week and did not come home. No one heard from them. I spent sleepless nights praying they had just abandoned me and that they weren’t dead in a ditch somewhere. I prayed their absence was rooted in disregard and not danger. It was a strange and difficult thing to pray for.
When they finally came home, they told me they were in love with someone else and they were moving out. I walked around in a fog for weeks, and I kept thinking about this Ani Difranco song I loved in high school:
The first person in your life
to ever really matter
is saying the last thing
that you want to hear
and you are listening hard
through the splintering shards
of your life as it shatters
And you’re standing firm.
And you’re staying close.
And you’re seeing clear.
There are lines I have heard over the years whose rhythms have worked their way into my pulse. I collect them like talismans. They disappear into some depth in me until I need them for guidance and comfort.
I am not a person who processes their emotions well. During times of great stress and change all I feel is numb, but still some fragment of a song or poem will come floating up from a deeper part of me. I’ve come to think of it as an indicator for when I need to pay attention to myself, like an old injury that aches before it rains.
I get lonely and think of the Nikki Giovanni line:
Something is wrong
there are flies everywhere I go
I avoid trauma, and a line from The Rape Joke by Patricia Lockwood loops in my head.
The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years…
for the next five years all you did was write, and never about
yourself, about anything else.
And this is what poetry means to me. Small and beautiful comforts that help me understand myself. These out of context fragments that explain the mechanics of my heart.
When I was falling in love with Alex, we both knew that this was a going to be a great, towering kind of love. The kind of love that fills every corner of your life with the comfort and simplicity it provides. That whole summer I walked around in dream, a line from Mindy Nettifee’s This Is The Nonsense of Love repeating in the back of my mind:
The truth is this:
My love for you is the only empire
I will ever build.
Clementine von Radics is an internationally touring poet and the founder of Where Are You Press, a publishing house that focuses on the voices of women and people of color. Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and others. Her first book was adapted into a song cycle for Melody Moore, debuting at Carnegie Hall in 2016. Her latest book of poetry, Mouthful of Forevers, was a #1 Bestseller on Amazon.
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