For me the power of poetry lies in its ability to infuse—to charge, if you will—life with renewed focus by teaching us to better see others, and ourselves, through language as a lens.
I write to find energy I may be lacking, but also to diffuse pent-up energy and anxiety. I write to create a space where I can throw out and hone, as a potter gives shape to wet clay at the wheel, concepts and emotions in a way that makes me feel less rudderless in life.
Reading through some of the insightful entries here by other poets, leaves me both humbled and honored to call myself a member of this tribe. The earnestness and dedication of writers who work consistently and diligently to convey meaning, context, and witness to their own lives and the lives of others, through their words and stories, is another example of the power of poetry to connect people, both individually and collectively.
Every poem I write has a story to it, although not necessarily through a straightforward narrative (although I probably do write a lot of narrative poems, others seem to create their own stories and ambiguities, surprising me by how they end up.)
A lot of my work over the past few years has been about my father, whom I lost at the age of 85, not quite three years ago. My new chapbook, Accommodations, is dedicated to him, and contains a lot of work that was generated somewhat feverishly during his worsening illness and in the year after he died. I think this work will always hold special significance for me, in that it represented a concerted effort to give voice to this difficult period, as well as to specific events that took place during the time window of his illness and subsequent death, but also emerged from my subconscious in that period.
I truly felt a calling to bring this work forward, and will be forever grateful to Concrete Wolf Press for publishing it. As much as anything, I was desperate to preserve certain stories and memories, in a way I haven’t been in the past. I fear the loss of memory, pure and simple. I write to preserve what I know has been authentic and true about my life, but also to seek out those truths. I do hope others will see some of their own truths in my work. When that happens, it’s nothing short of magical—another example of the power of poetry to illuminate universal truths, to make us question and affirm our core values.
I published my first chapbook three years ago, at the age of 58. It was a dream come true, for a lot of reasons, but I think as much as anything, having a real book of my own re-energized me to keep going.
Although I work in communications, learning the poetry marketing piece was very different, as far as what’s expected and what I needed to do if I wanted anyone to buy my books. Some of this process probably came more naturally to me than it might to others who don’t do public relations for a living, but at the same time, writing poems represents a different kind of putting yourself out there than the professional networking I do routinely in my day job. I’ve had to think more about what I put out there, and who I’m sharing it with, and be OK with the fact that the boundaries of personal and professional identities can blur. I recognize there are always people out there who will interpret poetry brags as just more me-me-me, and be turned off by that. I am turned off by others who self-promote ad nauseum, but don’t bother to try to lift other writers up as well by sharing their work and successes in solidarity.
If there’s one thing that probably rings truest for me among all the things I could say about the power of poetry, it would be that poetry has the capacity to make us better people. It can be a courageous act to write a poem—there are so many examples of poetry of witness. One of my favorites is “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche. Poems can cause us to reflect on the most basic as well as the most complicated of human values and characteristics. A poem I have read often is “Kindness” by Naomi Shahib Nye.
Just two weeks ago, a friend messaged me to say her husband had just died, and could I recommend a poem she might read at a family gathering to scatter his ashes. I thought immediately of Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come,” which has huge personal significance to me: my father first shared that poem with me in 2011, and I subsequently read it to him as he lay dying in the hospital, and later at his memorial services. The friend I sent the poem to loved it, thanked me profusely, and once again I was reminded of the power of poetry.