Poetry and Nature Brought Me Back to My True Self
When the pandemic started, I was brushing up my book proposal for my memoir. I was determined, but after a few days, I got stuck. I could not focus on writing my memoir or anything around it. I could not focus on revising longer work. Life was changing and everything about it seemed too near. On Easter, I went through a breakup. Everything that seemed to anchor me was crumbling down.
It is then that I started writing and taking long walks in nature again. Not because I had a purpose, but out of inner necessity. Here in Munich we’ve had a soft lockdown; neighborhood walks/sport activities within our immediate vicinity were allowed even early on. In the midst of all the uncertainty, on my early morning walks in the gardens of the Nymphenburg palace (a mixture of fountains, trimmed bushes, wild forest, and human-sized sculptures of Greek gods), my writing started pouring out of me as short lyrical essays and poetry.
For me, poetry is much more about feeling than about form. It is feeling condensed to its essence. It is the unexpressed emotion that we all feel but that often escapes language. Our world is fractured, but it was already fractured before the pandemic. Free-form poetry and hybrid forms are simply reflective of our times.
In late April, my mother’s Alzheimer’s was galloping, she was mixing past and present more often than before. Perhaps this was her own coping strategy with the current uncertainty. She was seeing me ten or twenty years ago and my long-dead aunt and grandmother, and calling my name often. My parents live in Romania (which has had a much stricter lockdown than Germany to date), and once again, we found ourselves separated by borders that seemed impossible to cross, almost like in the old days of the Iron Curtain. For several days, I struggled with figuring out how to get there. My desperation was not sustainable. Exhausted by various unrealistic scenarios, I remembered what Liz Gilbert has recently said in a School of Life webinar on resilience “There’s a time to fight back, and a time to surrender.”
I surrendered, and I wrote poetry. And the more poetry I wrote, the more poetry I wanted to read. I discovered and rediscovered the poetry of Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Adrienne Rich, and Carmen Boullosa. Nature, legends, and myths have always played an important role in my life and in my writing (because how could I possibly separate these two from each other and myself?), but the more I read, the more I wrote. The more I walked, first in parks, then in cemeteries, then in the mountains (once it was possible to do it again), the more I felt the rhythm of nature within me, and in my writing.
There’s a new dimension in my writing now, a wilderness I had only tapped into briefly and temporarily before, which is currently looking for an outlet, day after day. The only way is out. On sunny days, I am outside, chasing lakes and waterfalls on my own, making my way through lush forests. On rainy days, I am at home, reading and writing poetry. I video chat with my parents almost daily and when my mother asks me “When are you coming home?”, I remind her what year it is, and of the current lockdown. We found a way for her to see me, for real.
I feel like these times are an invitation to tap deeply into our collective subconscious and unearth everything that has been buried deep within us — the folklore, the trauma, the archetypes, our true identities that we have tried to ignore for too long in our attempts of being as we think “should be”, as we think society expects us to be. Our connection to nature is dormant in many ways. We trim our lawns and we often climb mountains to prove ourselves and our strength, but without necessarily stopping to witness the birds sing their song, water just falling, the trees with their interconnected roots and branches, using everything they can to root and grow, even breaking through stone, the ladybug gently moving forward on the path, or clouds moving with the wind. Poetry and nature open us up when we truly pay attention. Social isolation is also an invitation to embrace our real nature in solitude, in nature.
We often try to take on identities that do not represent us, we criticize ourselves and others. We try to love within a certain frame, as we see other people trying to love each other. But we also just are and life has always been mostly uncertainty, now it is just more uncertainty than usual. We can’t stop death or the passing of time. We can’t forever shove down our dreams.
Nature heals and re-heals itself and, above all, it just is, without trying to be one thing or another. In writing and in life, I try to be and do the same. I don’t always manage, but right now, all I can do is write short, condensed poetry. I want my words to live on the page, expressing something fundamental, from a place beyond language, about life and human nature. Nothing “more”. I want my words to have a meaning simply because they exist, rather than the meaning I try to give them.
More than ever, we need words that connect us and help us make sense of the new world. Words that aren’t reflective of an academic, polished way of being in the world, but rather words that connect us to our ancient, wild self; words that express our true nature. We live in a liminal time and space, when our old strategies of being in the world and, perhaps most importantly, of being with ourselves are no longer working. Poetry itself is a liminal experience. Whether we read it or write it, it is a vessel that can carry us through if we allow it.
Diana Radovan PhD ELS is a Romanian-born, multilingual, and cross-genre writer living in Munich, Germany. She is a regular contributor at Headline Poetry and Press, a Best of the Net award nominee for her hybrid essay On the Way, and a teacher of fiction at Sarah Selecky Writing School. She has been publishing her writing around the globe since 2004. Currently, she is working on a hybrid memoir and curating the writing section of Arcana 2020, an international digital project involving over 40 writers and artists. Read more about her at dianaradovan.com.