I have test anxiety and I feel like I am being tested most of the time.
When this anxiety spikes I forget words and either yell a lot or go very still until I make it back to home. Once home I can deal with my feelings alone like a true midwesterner. When I was young I developed the habit of writing the feelings I was dealing with down as similies so they seemed managable. This eventually led to writing super-secret cliché poems in a cliché moleskin notebook that I kept clichély under my mattress and I didn’t think much about writing poetry outside of a way to parcel out feelings that felt too big into something manageable.
In my 20’s, I lived in a house that felt like the SAT’s every day. I took to hiding from my housemates in public places under the guise of having plans and appearing just too busy to engage with them. Wednesday night’s hiding took place at a Poetry Show. The side effect to this hiding place was more writing. The more poetry I heard the more I wrote, the more I played with language and vehicle and metaphor and shaped my cliché poem blobs into slightly better cliché poem blobs but it was all still stashed under my mattress because I wasn’t a poet or anything and I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say.
Eventually, I moved out of the standardized housing. It was an ugly leaving. I forgot lots of words. I went numb until I was in my own apartment and unpacked my cliché moleskin but this time the feelings were bigger than paper and the poem I wrote about this leaving was the first poem I shared on a microphone. Sharing poetry out loud for the first time felt like an escape and homecoming all in one.
Soon I learned how many other things poetry could help me escape from.
Aside from a way to process and escape my anxieties I learned how to use poetry to time travel, going back to say all the things I wanted to say or should have said to someone but didn’t or couldn’t in the moment and thereby escaping regret.
As an actress I was unhappy with the roles I was given as a fat woman but I use performance poetry to get to decide the roles I would play. I get to be actor, director and writer-I get to escape type casting and discontent.
My biggest escape, my Houdini underwater straight jacket escape through poetry came in escaping shame.
Once I started writing work that I knew I would share I had this idea that I would never write about my body because at this time I felt that I had to be better than my body and as long as I produced work that was better than my body no one would notice I was fat, or they would at the very least respect me more than they hated my body. One day it all slammed into me though, there seemed to be a swell in news stories about how hated fat bodies are and I got angry. More so, I was already angry but I could no longer contain this anger at the ways large bodies are constantly disrespected. After reading a news story about fashion week I sat down and wrote out a piece directed at chief body shamer Karl Lagerfield who had wished large bodies invisible. Writing the poem felt great, but if reading my first poem out loud a couple years before had felt like homecoming, performing this poem felt like home ownership. At last feeling connected to a body that I had spent years treating like a rentalPoetry did this for me. Poetry helped me place angry hands to a keyboard and decide what was mine again. . I escaped to the place I was supposed to be all along.
Rachel Wiley is a poet and body positive activist. Her work has been featured on Upworthy, The Huffington Post, and Everyday Feminism. Her first full length poetry collection Fat Girl Finishing School was released in 2014 from Timber Mouse Publishing.