Why Poetry?

‘In this poor body, composed of one hundred bones and nine openings, is something called spirit, a flimsy curtain swept this way and that by the slightest breeze. It is spirit, such as it is, which led me to poetry, at first little more than a pastime, then the full business of my life. There have been times when my spirit, so dejected, almost gave up the quest, other times when it was proud, triumphant. So it has been from the very start, never finding peace with itself, always doubting the worth of what it makes.’ -Basho

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Inevitably in every period of writing, a poem comes into fruition about poetry itself. The poem either is a self-reflection on why I write poems or it seeks to ‘define’ the relationship the poem has with the writer. Reading poetry frequently from all different schools of poetry, to poets of different genders, class, nation, culture, etc. all seem to find their way to a piece or pieces where they discuss their relationship with writing or the poem. At times, it’s a question as ‘why the need to do this?’ Other times, it’s an intimate reflection on the relationship the writer has with his/her work, the process of creating that work, the struggles that come from doing the work, and the joy of the work. There is no doubt that writing is work. Currently I am up at three in the morning (every morning) to make certain I have the time, the headspace, and the consistency needed to write. It’s not easy. I work full-time as a mental health therapist with adolescents, which means once I walk into my ‘day job,’ my brain, my ears, my ability to have personal thoughts/feelings/problems, has to disappear. I am there’s for the day. So, hours before the sun rises in the middle of most people’s nights, I give time to writing. I tell my teens (who think I am insane for this practice) it is the happiest time of my day. It’s not a lie. It truthfully is. Writing has always been sacred to me and as the world has gotten more demanding with age and responsibility, I need it more and more. Some people meditate, some people pray, some get up and attend a religious service daily, and I write. In fact, the process felt so deeply spiritual and soul-nurturing to me, that I actually chose to call the collective poems I wrote over last year, “Divinity.” According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “divinity,’ is defined as 1) ‘theology,’ and 2) ‘the quality or state of being ‘Devine.’ The adjective ‘Devine,’ is defined as ‘of relating to, or proceeding from God.’ I don’t think the words I write are ‘divine,’ or ‘God’s words.’ I do find the practice of writing to come from some holy space or place. I decided to call the collection of poems during that time “Divinity,’ because that’s what the practice felt like to me, but I also wanted to look at the word. I knew each poem would not sound like something most people would qualify as ‘divinity,’ as most would think of poems dealing with scripture. I understood it as understanding that whatever would come in those early hours of the morning (some beautiful, some vulgar, some revengeful, some lustful, some reflective) were all ‘divine.’ We’re quick to categorize things. The truth is I had just written a book about dealing with grief that primarily stemmed from dealing with my mom being diagnosed with cancer, and it took a ton out of me. The topic was heavy and it was the most specific piece of work I ever produced. At the end, I was not sure (as I always am) if I had it in me to write anymore. I decided to go for a year and just let what came up, come. I shut down filters and allowed my mind to accept that whatever showed up was ‘divine.’ The irony is, a week or so into the project, I got pneumonia and due to an autoimmune response, I became a Type 1 diabetic as an adult. The year was not easy as I had to learn how to be a diabetic and the pneumonia returned almost consistently from January to July. There were many poems about grief again, but I am surprised at how many were not. In my truest fashion, just when I was ready to take a break from writing, my soul spoke up and said, “No, you need this.” In times when I can barely speak, my body goes to writing. It might not be ‘good writing,’ but it’s there. Inevitably, we all come to a place in life, where there is that moment, that heartbreak, that tragedy, or that loss, where we come to know and understand that even if you have a phone full of contacts ready and eager to chat, none of them will be able to give you what you need. I’ve been there. I’ve held the phone and threw it back down. I’ve even frantically dialed every one I know. At the end, I’m still in the same space. This is typically a cue for me that I need to go to writing. My therapist described it as, ‘my need to go inward and reset my narrative,’ and I like that. I also feel, which shows up, inevitably, in every collection of poems I write, that I have developed a relationship with writing. To me, it’s a living, breathing relationship. I guess, it’s similar to the relationship one cultivates with a higher power. I do believe that might be the God within me, it might be ‘the muses,’ or whatever energy the universe is connecting me to. It can be looked at in many ways, but it’s this relationship. I think this is why writers frequently write about writing. As with any relationship, we need to validate it and have dialogue and conflict. I, myself, started writing as a teenager. With the exception of a few friends, teachers, professors, most of it has never been seen. I gave up doctoral writing scholarships and continued to write daily (I’m now 39). I have been asked constantly by the few people who have seen my work, why I don’t do something with it. After all, ‘art is meant for the world to see.’ The thing is, I did not see it as much as ‘art,’ and I still don’t. I am not a great writer, but I am a person who needs writing, who has a relationship with it. I never put it out there (until now) because I saw it as a relationship. I saw it as a spiritual practice I needed. It’s taken years of convincing to put it out there and the reason I have chosen to is because during the last few years as I’ve dealt with a lot of pain, heartbreak, depression, loss personally, I also went to work every day and watched adolescents (around the same age I was when I started my relationship with writing) fight for their lives. I also feel like we are living in a time, more than ever, when people need to recognize the power of their voices. I don’t believe anyone is going to read this, but if one person does and it inspires them to contemplate having a relationship with writing, I can only hope that it gives them the sense of purpose, perspective, and strength it has given me. I can honestly say, I don’t know if the teenager I was when I started writing would be alive today, if I had not developed a faith and trust in my relationship with the writing process. The world is just as confusing and scary (if not more so) now than it was when I was that teenager. I am still him, now with the responsibility of keeping other teenagers alive and full of purpose. Things have changed greatly in my world since I was that kid. I could never have imagined how much joy, heartbreak, loss, etc. I would come to know. The one constant factor through all of it has been I have this relationship with writing. We have seen the world together and have watched my internal world die and bloom again together. Recently, I was having a conversation in therapy and I talked about the process of starting this project. I discussed how I’m including poems from all parts of my life. The therapist was challenging me on ‘not feeling angry enough and letting it out,’ and I told him that many of my first poems were angry. I stated it was something that early on in my relationship with writing, I struggled with. I was pursuing a writing career (and for a hot minute) it was getting intense. I was giving readings to people of poems that were full of rage, and it was my rage. I was unsettled by the fact that they enjoyed the poems because they were coming from a real place of anger and hurt. I noted I needed to learn to control the narrative, how much I was going to give. I noted I feel like I can do that now. I stated to him that reading those pieces now, I couldn’t find that voice if I wanted to. He kind of challenged me on it and stated maybe I needed to, maybe those people loved those angry poems because it allowed them to feel an emotion they try to suppress too. The therapist in me very much heard this, as I am constantly trying to get people to feel safe and talk about all emotions. There would have been a time that his suggestion horrified me, but I’ve learned to trust my relationship with writing enough now to trust whatever emotion wants to come. I agreed with him. As I was walking home, I thought, if my relationship with writing allowed that scared young guy to be able to accept and trust any and every emotion that comes, I do believe it can do that for anyone. So, you will find poems I put on here that discuss, question, an celebrate my relationship with writing. They are extremely important. When you see them, I hope you understand a bit more about how important they are. They are reflections and discussions on the greatest relationship I have in my life, my relationship with writing, which is how I practice and make sense of my own divinity. – L

2 thoughts on “Why Poetry?”

  1. This is wonderful, I can really feel it in my heart…
    Also mega respect to you that you manage a 3am writing session amongst everything! I know you will but I’ll say it anyway – keep it up.


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