It is trite to say poetry is the air I breathe, but as I sit here pondering the question, I realise it to be true. It is, for me, the breath that catches, that fills my lungs, that powers these feelings into thoughts into words into voice. It is what edges out those fears, those doubts; it is the pause between words, the spaces between, the comma separating my ideas – and I have so many ideas these days.
Poetry is the absence of an answer, it is the letting go, the lack of hard and solid proof, the allowance for uncertainty. Poetry is the vulnerability I had been unwilling to show, had been unable to embrace, had been unaware I was capable of. Poetry was the wind that whistled through the eaves at night that left me restless, wondering, wanting. Poetry is what I used to rebuild my self, to remember my stories, where I came from, where I stood, and where I wanted to go.
As this past decade slinks off into the shadows of the next one’s promises, I am writing a poem for each memory I cling to, for each moment I faced alone, for each time I told myself okay was good enough; then, good enough was okay. I am memorialising the parts of me I have lost, I am eulogising every part of myself I laid to rest, and yes, I am preparing to resurrect the dead yet, too.
It has been just over a year now that I started writing again, after a ten year hiatus from any sort of personally-motivated literary work. In that time, I had worked as a journalist, writing other people’s stories. It wasn’t that I had lost my voice – it was that I had stopped thinking I had anything to say.
Prior to those ten years, I was a prolific – albeit immature – writer, with hundreds of poems, plays, monologues, novels and novellas, short stories and essays to my credit. I wrote for the joy of it, I wrote to make my mark on the world, I wrote because it bled out of me so quickly dropping it onto paper was the only responsible act I felt I could make. But I didn’t value it, not really. I considered it a by-product of living my authentic life. I thought it was just always something I would do, something I couldn’t help but do, something I was born to do.
Then life took its course and before I knew it, I had given myself over to another pursuit: to love, to be loved. In doing so, I lost myself, because love can’t exist where only a shell remains – and I had indeed become a shell of my former self. But it wasn’t love; it was a poem, poorly written, that wanted to be about love. It was the only poem I worked on for those ten years.
And then I left, and then I wrote. Those first words, those first pages, those first chapters were excruciating – then, and now. I scratched them out onto the page without considering why, how, or who I was writing. I wrote because every word I managed to get down on the page was yet another step not just away, but to.
My first project was an attempted novel; it was months later, when I had stepped away for long enough and glanced back again from higher ground that I realised it was in fact the breeding grounds for poetry. The more I excavated from that first “work”, the more my voice trembled in amplification, the more it carried across. With every breath, every new poem I forged, it became stronger, more nuanced, more self-sure.
The first poem I wrote with purpose, I wrote for a stranger – another writer across the country from me – whose casual description of their own recent projects inspired me to write for them a poem of exaltation. How funny, that I could see such significance in the tiniest details of another’s life, when my own extraordinary experiences felt so small, so unworthy of words.
I continued this way, writing poems for other people, scrutinising the lives of strangers and spewing out
poetry they told me spoke to their souls. I wrote first to understand them, but quickly discovered that I was learning more about myself: the ways in which I saw them told me so much about the ways in which I see, the ways in which I feel, the aches I hold, the passions I am capable of. I was writing to catch my breath; I was writing to save my life.
I had been writing these poems for about a month when an editor contacted me with an invitation to serialise them online; so began “I Wrote You This Poem”. It felt like a safe way to share myself, without having to actually admit to anyone that these were my stories, my truths, my fears and loves and losses and liberations. This fed my courage, and I began to submit my work to a handful of literary magazines I admired, with great success. A few months later, I pulled together everything I’d written over the last half year, shifting and sorting it all until I discovered not only had I created enough for nearly three chapbooks, but that some of it was actually quite stirring, and all of it had something pretty damn important to say. And I had said it all.
And I was about to take a deep breath, and start saying it all aloud. One of my chapbooks, “What Lasts Beyond the Burning” had been selected for publication in 2020 by Nightingale & Sparrow Press. On the inhale, I felt legitimised: after all these years, I was a “real” writer, with “real” work. On the exhale, I released: my words were going out into the world, not for me, but for someone else who might need to hear them.
Poetry then, is not just the air I breathe, it is the air that was breathed back into my lungs, it is the first breath I took. It is the pause I take to draw you in, closer, closer. Listen: I have something important to tell you. It’s mine and it matters. I am writing you this poem, and you are really me.
A. A. Parr is an artist, writer & entrepreneur. She explores difficult themes in an attempt to shine a necessary light into our darkest crevices. Her debut chapbook, “What Lasts Beyond the Burning” is forthcoming (Nightingale & Sparrow); her series “I Wrote You This Poem” is available exclusively on Channillo.com. https://aaparr.wixsite.com/ourghosts