I planted mint in a little nook of dirt between my porch and house a few years ago and it has gradually filled the entire space. Each year it spreads a bit further; now it surrounds the propane tank and has crept through the hedges, soon it’ll reach the back yard. Each time I pass it, I pick a few leaves and crack them between my fingers, rub them a bit, and put them in my pocket. Hours later I can still smell a faint whiff of mint as I’m riding my bike along the Susquehanna River. Poetry has spread itself thick throughout my life much like this mint. I’ll write a line, put it in my pocket, roll it around a bit, and then hours or days or months later, it’ll have rooted itself and grown into something. I’ll pick up a book of poems and leaf through it, picking up images and lines from other voices and hold them close. These poems, read and written, gather and spread like rhizomes throughout an invisible world just beneath the surface of my daily life.
Poetry is everywhere – next to my morning coffee, under the silver maple in my backyard, in my daily lesson plans as a teacher, on my hat as I stalk up wild ravines in search of trout with a fly rod, next to me on the passenger seat as I drive down nameless dirt roads. The power poetry has is its ability to force an unknown into existence, to make the world into something completely new, to show me what it means to live in a different way.
For me, writing poetry is a way to make sense of the world. Writing poetry helps me understand, create, and break the patterns that shape our lives. It lets me deconstruct and construct, it pushes me to see, to notice. I really don’t know how I could process the world without writing poetry. In some ways it’s just another way of breathing – something I need to do, something I’m doing unconsciously throughout my day. It also holds a very deliberate power. I try to create time each day where I sit and intentionally take part in the creation of if, where I am able to put pen to paper and enter into a stream of creativity.
Each poem has the power to remind, to confuse, to teach, to share, to open. I keep coming back to one line in particular by Jim Harrison from his poem “Word Drunk,”
“but I would feed on an essence
until it yields to me my own dumb form -”
That line is a slap-in-the-face-reminder of what poetry is all about – what we call our attention to is what we are. I think Mary Oliver also said something close to that – attention is the beginning of devotion. I love how poetry immerses me in something and allows me to shed my skin and take on another, even just for a little. That’s the power of poetry in my life. I pick it up, I crack its surface, I rub its essence between my fingers, I leave it in my pocket.
Michael Garrigan writes and teaches along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. He enjoys exploring the river’s many tributaries with a fly rod and hiking the Riverlands. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in English & Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His essays and poetry have appeared in publications such as Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Wayfarer, The Drake Magazine, Hawk & Handsaw, Sky Island Journal, and Barren Magazine. His first chapbook, What I Know [How to Do], is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. You can find more of his writing at www.mgarrigan.com.