“Watch your life as if it were a film. Absorb everything. What you see, hear, and feel will stamp every alphabet of your work.”
― Nikky Finney
My love of writing goes back to my love of story.
I grew up in the shadow of one story or another being told and passed around. A hand me down of well worn moments. Rooted in a land of endless stories. Every corner, every curve of the place I call home has some ghost attached to it, where one person or another did one thing or another, and so the story goes.
It gets in your blood after a time, all these stories, and the love for them. It soaks right down to the bone, and goes deeper. They eventually find their way into the soul, the spirit, and the heartbeats of the living imagination itself.
I suppose when you get right down to it, we’re all made of stories. Not atoms, not nearly so much as the meaning of those atoms in coming together to form us. There’s space in between those atoms, and maybe it’s that space — the pause between the material and immaterial reality — that story catches its breath and breathes into our being life itself.
Lessons on being the raindrop
It was an awful poem from a third or fourth grader, something about being a rain drop. It’s OK, I can call the kid’s poem awful because I was the kid in question. My Momma probably would disagree, and truth is, in context, it probably wasn’t that bad of a poem. I can’t really remember.
I can remember the subject, the rain drop. I can remember the creativity of the subject, being the rain drop. And, of course I remember what happened with that poem. It was published in the local paper.That’s right ya’ll, full blown published. Quality scrapbook material and everything.
Dreams of being the next great american novelist
The next time poetry got a hold of me, and this time it didn’t really let go, was in college. My undergrad years, somewhere between short stories and dreams of being the next great American novelist (whatever the hell that is), I wound up in a poetry class that forever changed the course of my life.
I know, I know, that sounds breathlessly dramatic. Bear with me though, I said it on purpose, and I meant it. I’ll stick to it too. Poetry, and specifically that first true poetry class that I took, it changed my life forever. It woke something up inside me, something that started with all those first stories I loved, and that poem I wrote however many decades ago, something that had possibly always been fused to my soul.
I had a great professor in that class, one that at first, I didn’t have clue of who she was. I really hate admitting that, she was famous. All the other students that were in the know, you could see that they knew. They had a hushed tone of awe in their words as they spoke to her that first day, a deference to the award winning poet in our presence.
But me, I didn’t have a damned clue who she was. I did later (that same day in fact). I caught on quick, and then I figured it out. Even if I didn’t have the power of Google and a hungry mind, it wouldn’t have taken me long to have caught on to the powerful presence of this poet.
That’s no exaggeration, her soul must truly be a vessel for the special magic that muses lend to the truly great poets because she beamed with it. She flowed almost effortlessly in what she shared with us — her poetry carrying over to her teaching. Soft, purposeful, precisely chosen words, each one selected for an exact purpose. A message in every word.
I’m of course talking about the one and only Nikky Finney who taught me for two terms the ins and outs of the art and craft of poetry. More than teaching my class just the mechanics of poetry and all the rules that go along with writing a poem, she taught us how to be hungry for poetry and its craft. It’s in this hunger for poetry — to know more, to practice harder, to want more from the poems I write — that has truly and forever changed the course of my life.
Even when I went off to study other things for a time after that, earning a Masters in Political Science and starting a small consulting business helping candidates build and develop their campaigns and political messaging strategies, poetry and my love for words hummed noisily in the background. Much of the creativity that the work of building campaigns requires, I firmly believe, is built from a love for words and a deep understanding for effective communication.
She taught me that in example as much as in direct lesson. Each word she chose, careful, precise, ripe with potential. She taught me precision, and that precision carries over into everything I write, even to this day. It’s no exaggeration to say, I am the poet I am because of those classes.
This time after surgery
Eventually the muses found me again. This time after a surgery, when my life felt robbed of the purpose I had thought I understood was mine, but quickly found out was instead rather fleeting. At least for a time.
I had developed some different health challenges back in late 2018 and early 2019, gastrointestinal issues likely due to heavy loads of stress (politics, remember, was my business for a while). And I also lifted a Sewing machine table (with machine inside) that was just a smidge or two too heavy, and at all the wrong angles, enough to properly tear my insides and develop into a bi-lateral inguinal hernia.
I had it repaired in August of 2019, and then of course had some setbacks with that. It was a slower recovery than I had expected and just long enough to lead to all kinds of life setbacks and unexpected turns. My money ran out of a savings account I was living on in quite a hurry, I had to take a very low paying job, then a second slightly less low-paying job, all while still not fully recovered (but enough to do the work).
Life happens to the best of us, right?
But something truly powerful happened in the middle of all this. I decided to scribble a poem or two and then those led to more, and more, and more. And as they say, the rest is history. It seems strange to me now, to stop and realize that all of this was just shy of a year ago. Time is funny like that.
I had started a small poetry account on Instagram in the early parts of 2019, where I had put one or two poems at the time and soon forgot about them. But after the surgery (six months or more after those first two poems) I filled that Instagram account with a constant stream of poems. Every topic, raw and brutal vulnerability on full display to the wide and ever watching world.
It fed my soul, and paradoxically, woke up my hunger for more. Poetry had once again been re-awakened in my being. My life had found new trajectory, and once more had been altered.
It becomes a part of you
It’s how my brain is wired. It’s just that simple. Why do I write poetry? It’s like breathing for me. I have all these lines, thoughts, ways of saying things, all tumbled up inside.
Part of the reason for that is having written so many poems. You do a thing enough and it becomes part of you. That’s the way it is for me with poetry. It’s more than habit alone, but the habit of writing poetry has shaped my way of thinking about things. It has shaped the way I solve certain problems (maybe most problems).
At this point, I can’t really help but to think and act creatively.
But it’s also more than that. Poetry is a part of how I see myself, how I want to see myself. It’s who I am and want to become. A poet. Someone who hears the sacred language of the imagination, and who does his best to translate that into something meaningful.
I write poetry because I can’t imagine not doing so. I don’t want to imagine not doing so. It feeds me, nourishes me, sustains me, and gives me a rich and deep sense of purpose.
So, that’s a glimpse into my story, what’s yours like?
Maybe you’re like me, maybe poetry hasn’t been a straightforward endeavor — all clear cut and easy to understand. The truth is, none of our lives are easy to follow or understand, not really.
Oh sure, you can look back and see the mystery of how some things line up. Like they’ve been waiting for you to find them, discover them waiting for you. It’s just part of the adventure.
Besides, would you really want life to be so boring as a straight line from one thing to the next? Me neither.
So, maybe you’re like me and you just can’t shake all those lines and that beautifully weird way you see the world. Would you really want to if you could? Me either.
Poetry is a journey. Enjoy it, write often, let it surprise you and learn to listen for the whisper of the muses. Have faith in yourself, I’m sure you’re doing a lot better than you think.
Looking for your next read? Check these out: