Poetry is magic. It is alchemical. It breaks rules, bends time, shines in liminal spaces and challenges us not only to look at the world differently, but to engage with it differently. One of the most incredible things to me is how active the transformative properties of poetry are. We write poems and we are changed. We read poems and we are changed. It doesn’t happen all at once, either. Poems— even single lines of poems— will take root. They become part of us. We hold them close and return to them when things are hard, little mantras or spells for strength and healing. There is something vast yet precious about poetry, universal yet deeply personal and specific.
When I tell you that poetry has saved my life, I mean that when I thought I was alone in the darkness I was given books, and somehow even when I had lost the will to live I still had not lost the will to read. I mean that poetry could reach me when nothing else could. I mean that I read “To the Young Who Want to Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks every day for a while, printed it out and kept it in my pocket to read whenever I needed to. I mean that “The Journey” by Mary Oliver changed the way that I thought about my own voice and value. Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” brought me back to the world, and helped me rediscover little joys. I mean that when I feel hopeless about the state of my life or the state of the world I return to “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry and find reassurance there each and every time, without fail.
My own writing practice has helped me grow immeasurably. It’s not always pretty or neat, but it is necessary. Whether the work is published or not is besides the point, really, because catharsis comes from finding the words to express my deepest joys, my grief, my questions and my answers. It is the writing itself that heals. Still, there is something profound in the sharing of this work. Finding that language and then finding common ground within it. Exploring those bounds with another person, and asking, in your own way, “have you felt this, too?” You don’t always hear the answer, but every once in a while someone will reach out and say “I have.” These moments of communion are so incredible, affirming, and nourishing. This is one way that poetry has welcomed me to the world, helped me form new bonds, and invited me into community. Whether attending festivals or readings or simply sitting at home with a book I love, I find myself thrilled by the writers brave enough to be vulnerable in their work, and slowly but surely I am trusting myself this way, too.
Catherine Garbinsky is a writer living in Northern California. She holds a degree in The Poetics of Transformation: Creative Writing, Religion, and Social Justice from the University of Redlands. Catherine is the author of a chapbook of Ursula K. Le Guin erasures, All Spells Are Strong Here (Ghost City Press, 2018). Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Rag Queen Periodical, Flypaper Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, and others.