Poetry helps me breathe.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I have been writing poetry since I could write. The styles I have emulated over the years reflect the stages of my growth and, at times, were signifiers of who I was as a person. (Didn’t most of us have the angsty, I need to roam and be wild Beat phase?) I am forty-one years old, but it has only been in the last four years that I have embraced the title of “poet.” Now I lead with that.
In a non-pandemic world, I gather with local poets once a month to share and perform poetry. The night is almost always magical and inspiring, and we walk away with a feeling of camaraderie and support. I am in awe of the honesty that comes out on stage through poetic lines—the admissions of pains and grievances, of hurts that cut so deep only poetry can soothe them, the resurrections of trust, faith, and joy, the declarations of strength and truth winding paths through the muddled emotions and actions of our humanity. Sometimes the moments are tense, and the uncomfortable stretching and growing of the audience are palpable. Other times, the open-hearted connections embrace the poet with unshakable support.
When I was fourteen weeks pregnant with my second daughter (born with a genetic disorder), my fifty-seven-year-old father had a debilitating stroke. He is forever a changed man. For five years, I grieved silently for my father, brushing aside my friend’s questions of his health and recovery to avoid the torrent of tears. I was also struggling to find my way in the realm of special needs parenting, a community I had never imagined being a part of.
Five years after my father’s stroke, I stood upon the poetry stage and performed a five-minute poem about him, the man he was and is. I had spent weeks writing and practicing my words, over and over, until I could say them without crying. The audience walked with me through the memories of my father, grieved for the loss of who he had been, and felt the sincere gratitude of having his presence in my life. I walked back to my seat amidst hugs and words of support and tender connections, and the relief of having shared a small weight of my grief.
I have since performed poems about my daughter, who was born during this time. My words tell the journey of being a parent to a child with special needs. I share my fears, frustrations, joys, and successes. I am always met with kind and loving support. There have been times when friends who have heard these poems, who have come to know my daughter and her disorder through them, have been able to be present and supportive in beautiful and crucial ways. Poetry is essential to my communication. I fumble when I speak plainly.
To broach how other poets and poems have affected me would be to open a fathomless treasure chest of inspiration. It is often not a whole poem, but a line or two, a stanza, that splits me open or lingers heavily, hovering around my shoulders, whispering into my ears. My preferred way of deciding on a new poetry book to buy (besides buying the chapbooks or collections sold by the visiting poet or friend in front of me) is to open the book randomly and read the page. If there is a line or two that smacks me, causes my head to rear back in awe, or sudden and sincere contemplation, I buy it. I have found my favorite poets this way.
The power of poetry is immense and broad. The words, so carefully laid upon the page or splattered in a fit of inspiration, reach down into the depths of our beings and pull us up to fresh air. Poetry can, at times, punch us in the gut, so we double over. Other times poetry is a delicate ripple of fabled butterfly kisses along our skin. I often prefer the punch, but there is a place, a need, for all of it.
Anne Fricke is an author, performance poet, podcaster, wife, mother, storyteller, and aspiring campfire musician. She lives with her family on the beautiful coastline of Northern California, travels when she can (assuming there is not a global pandemic), and writes daily. Her recent poetry publications include Entropy, Last Leaves Magazine, and the blog Feminism and Religion. You can find more of her writing and her podcast for the special needs community, Walking with Freya, at her website annefricke.com.