I’ve written poetry on and off since I was a child. As a kid, I liked the challenge of rhyming. It was a fun exercise, a way to play with and learn about language. I was always proud of my work, enough to show my parents and schoolteachers. Sometimes, I would even illustrate my poems and turn them into little books with the computer paper we had laying around the house. At about the age of 13, it became a more serious endeavor. I experienced some emotional upheavals as I moved from middle school to high school, which included distance from my best friend. I processed everything internally, and rarely was I the kind of teenager who acted out when I felt like my world was falling apart. I just started writing a lot, and it became a way to make sense of the strange chemistry inside of me.
If writing poetry has been a catharsis, then reading it is how I choose to experience the world. If all poems are their own short stories, then poems are what I think of as the essence of the story, the complete emotional distillation of some feeling, memory, or place that an author is trying to capture, like lightning in a bottle. Nothing fancy around it, like conventions of punctuation or rightly constructed sentences or paragraphs. I think about the end of the Mary Oliver poem “In Blackwater Woods.” The final ten lines, a whole 40-some words, describes the basic human truth in such short, matter-of-fact language: “To live in this world / you must be able / to do three things: / to love what is mortal;/ to hold it / against your bones knowing / your own life depends on it; / and, when the time comes to let it / go, / to let it go.” I read it for the first time in a high school English class, and I remember something distinctly shifting inside of me. It was a feeling of this is it. That’s what life is. It’s a feeling I chase, an addiction, a rush of blood to the head. I seek out poetry for that moment that will shift my entire perspective, that moment that makes everything before it pre-poem and everything after it post-poem. It’s pure electricity for the soul.
I have dry spells where I write and nothing seems to quite click. The emotion doesn’t seem to be there, the verses feel juvenile, the theme feels inconsistent. But somehow I still keep at the process, committing bad poetry to a journal, a way to document where I am emotionally and how my creativity seems to ebb and flow. When the dry spell ends, it’s like another chance at life, and I am always grateful for it. There’s nothing quite like the creative spark, and how all-consuming it can be. The times I have been lost in my writing are some of the times when I have felt the most alive. When it happens, I always know that I am on to something, that I am uncovering something deeper inside of me, a truth that I can muster, and hopefully give someone even a tenth of the feeling that I get when I read a favorite poem.
In short, the power of poetry in my life has been many things – a literary exercise, an expression of empathy, an exorcism. It has never just been a way to connect to the world around me, because so much of the poetry I write, I write it just for myself. But by putting pen to paper, I feel like I am cleaning out a wound, or outwardly translating my grief and sadness into English. It doesn’t change the circumstances often, but it does bring clarity to them. Poetry gives meaning to the pain, and when I read others’ truths, I feel empathy, which is stronger than my angst.
Samantha Moya is a Ph.D. candidate studying Political Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an aspiring writer who is working on a debut poetry collection. She is originally from Albuquerque, NM, but currently resides in Boulder, CO with her partner and two dogs.