Grieving, praising and The Power of Poetry

In his insightful book The Smell of Rain on Dust Mayan spiritual leader Martin Prechtel argues that grief and praise are one and the same. In Tzutuhil Mayan language, they use the same word. ‘Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.’

My poetry is inextricably linked to my journey with grief. The work of the great Seamus Heaney was my entry point to the world of poetry with his poem Digging. ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them’, he wrote. ‘Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.’

In Heaney’s words, I came to understand the responsibility of the writer, to tell their truth to the exclusion of most everything else. The ultimate challenge – will you find a way to tell your truth without flinching? Although I am on that path, I have a long way to go. 

As I learned to grieve through poetry, I tied up loose ends and ‘finished’ conversations. Now, my poetry is an ongoing conversation with myself. There is always an element of risk in bringing the unspeakable to the page, but the quest for the ‘right’ word tempers the surges that might otherwise prove unmanageable. 

Poetry is a signpost in the otherwise unpredictable landscape of my mind. My truth rarely comes to the page easily, but it is always worth the work. Abandoning ‘perfection’ has brought me to a point where I can be utterly honest.

During the time that I have been developing my practice, both personally and professionally, poetry has become my favourite way to express myself. The beauty of poetry for me is the ability to distil an idea down to its essence.

Since 2018, I have worked as a youth workshop leader, helping young writers get to grips with new skills and techniques. I find great joy in being able to do what I love and helping others develop their talents. 

As a tool for managing and improving mental health, poetry is invaluable to me. My craft allows me to enter into dialogue with some of life’s most intense experiences and report on what I find within them. 

In itself, poetry is a language for that which lies just beyond the limits of language. Finding words for a feeling is a way to set oneself free, or at least point the way towards freedom. 

Life’s most difficult moments cannot be masked by flowery language, but at least in poetry there are words of balm for those who are facing arduous circumstances. I hold the work of John O’Donohue and David Whyte especially close in my own moments of struggle.

Poetry provides a container for the stuff of life, the light and the dark. If you look hard enough, for long enough, there is a poem to suit every circumstance. That is the gift, and that is why poetry will always be both an anchor and a lighthouse to me.

Casey Bottono is a writer and youth workshop leader living in Cornwall, England. Previously published in the Lapidus International journal of writing for wellbeing, PETRIe Inventory and Verbal Remedy, her work explores themes of bereavement, healing and recovery. She holds an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University, UK.

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