portrait by Angela Hardy
In my own Utopia, every man and woman would write a poem. They would write it with intent and care, re-write it several times, read it in a whisper, place it under the pillow before bed, and then tear it up.
For me, I became a grown-up with zero exposure to poetry. I felt love without having to write it down, or pain without trying to find a measure. Now, I write couplets to feel love, entire poems to remember pain. It’s all backwards ever since I have decided to let poetry into the center of my life.
The truth is I want to stop. Not only stop writing, but also, speaking. I want language to end for me because I’m sick of saying the same thing about my mother, about my grandmother, about my inconsiderate childhood—for years. When I’m sick of hearing myself, I turn to the craft of the poem, and even then, the rhythms sound like me. I become sick of me. No one is sick of me more than me.
Despite the lows between manuscripts, rejections, and joblessness, it’s an honor to be a poet. That’s my unpopular opinion—that a poet must remain humble, changing, and sincere. In exchange, I will opt for the shorter life, and potentially destructive, because few things in occupation depend on sincerity.
I recall this piece of information I had tucked away: There is an ancient Chinese belief that if a carp swims up a waterfall, the carp will turn into a dragon. To me, the waterfall is the life that I watched from a distance. When I read poetry, I am standing under that waterfall. I am experiencing the brunt of every droplet—of incident, memory, and dialogue. So what is it like to write poetry? There is a shift much like swimming upwards and reaching wisdom outside of my normal self.
Somehow, the image of a carp swimming up a waterfall sums up poetry for me. Standing under the water, you live more than your share of one life. Sometimes it’s hard because the things that are painful are amplified, but so are the things that are beautiful. Going up the water, you become more than you could in one life. And that is worth something to every man and woman—enough to write a poem, to re-write it, to read it, to sleep against it, and to shred it into pieces again and again.
appeared on NPM Daily for National Poetry Month