I don’t really know how to talk about what “the power of poetry” means in terms of my life, because I can’t imagine being anything other than a poet. It’s like asking me to express the power of breathing, or of the utility of water to my survival. It’s just…a given, without which I’m diminished to the point of vanishing.
I can’t recall the first poem I wrote, but I do recall the first one I ever published — I was 9 and my mother sent a poem I wrote to a children’s magazine. I don’t have it anymore, but I know it was about the seasons. I remember the buzz of seeing it in print, and wanting to chase that buzz as far as I could.
In addition, there was and is something about the sheer music of speech and language that thrills me at a deep level. I’ve always loved music and am a musician as well as a poet; though I came to the guitar late in life I have considered the work of “poetry” to include “music.”
Once I hit my teenage years, the desire for “fame” (such as it was) was replaced by something simultaneously more nebulous and more powerful — a quest for meaning and identity and…truth? I’m not sure. Those words all are as nebulous as I am…
I present as White, but I am of mixed race heritage. My mom is Italian-American, my father Mescalero Apache. I grew up hearing at home that I was never to think of myself as White, yet no one would ever see me as anything else. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder in my twenties, yet still have managed to maintain a reasonably functional life of achievement and success on my own terms (although that’s not always been easy). My life’s been rife of shadows; where the basic person I am fits among them hasn’t been obvious, to me or to others, much of the time. The search for peace in that mess led me, eventually, to a more serious engagement with poetry.
Poetry has offered me a place to find congruence and balance between apparently disparate elements. There’s no medium I’m aware of that does a better job of reconciling opposites and allowing them to play nicely (more or less) with each other;
nothing else that allows such specificity of concrete detail about the liminal space between dream and real life. It was the perfect medium for a boy who felt permanently ensconced between categories, whose place of definitions was built on water, not solid ground.
The power of poetry, then, for me, has always been about the preservation of my choice to be who I am in the face of a relentless need by the world to define that for me — and whether I’m reading a poem to myself, hearing it quietly delivered in a library or shouted out in a poetry slam, or sitting before a screen waiting to be filled, I hope that the work — the WORK — will bring me closer to myself.
Tony Brown is a poet from Worcester, MA. His ongoing poetry blog is “Dark Matter,” found at http://radioactiveart.blog. He is a seven time Pushcart Prize nominee who fronts the poetry and music group, “The Duende Project” (http://the duendeproject.com).